Human hepatitis delta (δ) virus (HDV) is a form of defective virus, which infects humans only in the presence of a co-infecting hepatitis B virus (HBV), HDV superinfection in a chronic HBV carrier often results in severe chronic hepatitis and cirrhosis, whereas acute HDV and HBV co-infection is frequently associated with fulminant hepatitis1-3. HDV consists of a 36-nm particle; which contains an envelope with HBV surface antigen, and a nucleocapsid containing the hepatitis δ-antigen (HDAg) and an RNA genome of 1.75 kilobases (kb) (ref. 4). Recently, the genomic RNA from an HDV serially passaged in chimpanzees has been cloned and sequenced in a study which showed that the HDV RNA is a single-stranded circular molecule with properties similar to those of viroid or virusoid5,6. However, it is not known' whether serial passages in chimpanzees had altered the properties of human HDV. Here we report the cloning and sequencing of an HDV RNA isolated directly from a patient with acute δ-hepatitis. The sequence showed considerable divergence (11%) from that of the chimpanzee-adapted HDV. Five open reading frames (ORFs) of more than 100 amino acids in both genomic and anti-genomic sense were found. The largest ORF in antigenomic sense, which can code for 214 amino acids, may correspond to the HDAg.
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