Summary The hepatitis B virus (HBV) genome encodes a 154 amino acid protein termed X (HBx, hepatitis Bx protein), which is a promiscuous transcriptional activator of polymerase II and III promoters. HBx upregulates a wide range of cellular and viral genes and is thought to facilitate viral pregenome and mRNA transcription; however, its precise role in the viral replication cycle remains to be elucidated. The functional mechanisms of HBx appear very complex. It was shown to activate transcription factors AP-1 and NF-kB via cytoplasmic signalling pathways including ras-MAP kinase. In contrast, nuclear HBx is thought to activate the transcriptional machinery directly. A second transcriptional activator protein (Mst, middle s transactivator) is encoded by 3′-truncated preS2/S sequences of integrated HBV DNA, but not by the intact viral gene. HBx and Mst may contribute to the pathogenicity of chronic hepatitis B and are suggested to promote hepatocyte transformation via upregulation of cellular proto-oncogenes. Further, HBx may enhance HBV related carcinogenesis by inactivation of the tumour suppressor gene product p53.