In a previous study, we have identified endonexin II (E-II) on human liver plasma membranes as a specific, Ca-dependent, small hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg)-binding protein. In this article, we describe the spontaneous development of anti-HBs antibodies in rabbits immunized with native or recombinant human liver E-II and in chickens immunized with the F(ab′)2 fragment of rabbit anti-human liver E-II immunoglobulin G. Anti-HBs activity was not observed in rabbits immunized with rat liver E-II. Cross-reactivity of anti-E-II antibodies to HBsAg epitopes was excluded, since anti-HBs and anti-E-II activities can be separated by E-II affinity chromatography. The existence of an anti-idiotypic antibody is further demonstrated by competitive binding of human liver E-II and this antibody (Ab2) to small HBsAg, suggesting that Ab2 mimics a specific E-II epitope that interacts with small HBsAg. In addition, it was demonstrated that anti-HBs antibodies developed in rabbits after immunization with intact human liver E-II or in chickens after immunization with F(ab′)2 fragments of rabbit anti-human liver E-II immunoglobulin G recognize the same epitopes on small HBsAg. These findings strongly indicate that human liver E-II is a very specific small HBsAg-binding protein and support the assumption that human liver E-II is the hepatitis B virus receptor protein.

Binding of viral envelope proteins to specific receptors on human hepatocytes is considered to be an important step in HBV infection. In this study, we demonstrate that a 34-kDa human liver plasma membrane protein specifically binds to small HBsAg in a Ca2+-dependent manner. By partial amino acid sequence analysis of preparatively isolated 34-kDa protein comigrating with HBsAg-binding protein obtained from binding assay on IEF/SDS-PAGE, we have identified this HBsAg-binding protein as Endonexin II (E-II). Native human liver E-II inhibits binding of HBsAg to intact human hepatocytes and shows specific binding to small HBsAg. This binding can be inhibited by human liver plasma membrane proteins, recombinant E-II, or anti-E-II antibodies. Despite 90% sequence homology, rat liver E-II does not bind to small HBsAg and does not inhibit significantly (less than 20%) binding of HBsAg to intact hepatocytes. Cross-linking of small HBsAg and radiolabeled human liver E-II resulted in a specific additional protein complex on PAGE with an apparent molecular weight of 90 kDa, corresponding to a complex of E-II and small HBsAg with a ratio of 2 to 1 or 1 to 2. These findings indicate that E-II, found in human liver, is a specific HBsAg-binding protein and might play an important role in the initiation of HBV infection.