A line of mouse cells expressing hepatitis B virus (HBV) surface and ‘e’ antigens identical in their physico-chemical properties to antigens from patients infected with HBV was isolated after transfection of 3T3 ceils with cloned HBV DNA. The studies reported here indicate that the ceils contain uninterrupted copies of the entire HBV genome which are unmethylated on CCGG sites and have no gross deletions or rearrangements. The entire core region is transcribed into polyadenylated RNAs large enough to serve as messengers for production of viral core antigen (HBcAg) yet no HBcAg can be detected. This suggests that the ceils produce a primary translation product copied from the HBcAg messenger which either cannot assume the proper configuration for display of HBcAg determinants or is rapidly converted to HBeAg by proteolysis.

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