The precore mutant hepatitis B virus often emerges from a mixed infection with combined wild-type and precore mutant viruses. Nevertheless, the precore mutant does not seem to be an evolutionarily favored strain. To investigate the interaction between wildtype and precore mutant hepadnaviruses in an animal model of perinatal transmission, we used an e antigendefective mutant duck hepatitis B virus with mutations inside the stem-loop structure of precore messenger RNA for this coinfection study. Thirty 1-day-old ducklings were infected with wild-type duck hepatitis B virus, precore mutant virus or both viruses. The amounts of viremia and the distribution of viruses were analyzed by spot hybridization, polymerase chain reaction, restriction fragment length polymorphism, cloning and sequencing. We found that all the ducklings became chronic carriers of duck hepatitis B virus. The precore mutant replicate was less active than wild-type duck hepatitis B virus, and it could be overgrown by wild-type virus during the course of coinfection. These results demonstrated that wild-type duck hepatitis B virus might become the predominant species in a situation similar to the perinatal cotransmission in human beings. This might at least in part explain why the prototype virus could prevail for years. (Hepatology 1994;19:569–576).
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