Demonstration of duck hepatitis B virus in bile duct epithelial cells: Implications for pathogenesis and persistent infection



Hepatitis B virus (HBV) has been demonstrated in bile duct epithelial cells (BDEC) during chronic infection. The persistence of virus in BDEC may play an important role in disease pathogenesis, and may be at least partly responsible for the relapse phenomenon observed in antiviral treatments using nucleoside analogues. The aims of this study were to examine the morphological changes within the liver in the duck hepatitis B model following bile duct ligation (BDL), and to assess the effect of biliary hyperplasia upon viral DNA and proteins. Seven-day-old ducklings, congenitally infected with the duck hepatitis B virus (DHBV), were subject to BDL. The pathological and virological changes were then followed at 5, 10, 15, and 20 days after ligation. All results were compared with age-matched unligated control birds congenitally infected with DHBV. To assess the early morphological changes, additional animals were sacrificed at 1, 2, 3, and 4 days post-BDL. The proportion of DHBV-infected BDEC, was examined by immunohistochemistry and in situ hybridization. BDL induced rapid biliary hyperplasia, with a doubling time for BDEC of 1.3 days. The proliferated BDEC displayed immunohistochemical features identical to resting BDEC. More than 50% of BDEC in unligated controls, and more than 46% of proliferated BDEC in ligated animals were positive for DHBV DNA and structural proteins. The intensity of immunohistochemical staining and in situ hybridization signal in the BDEC was consistently greater than that of the hepatocytes, both before and after BDL. BDL induces biliary hyperplasia in the duck model, and BDEC division does not reduce the viral burden in infected cells.