Localization of hepatitis delta virus RNA in the nucleus of human cells.
Cunha C. Monjardino J. Cheng D. Krause S. Carmo-Fonseca M. Chang D.
Institute of Histology and Embryology, Faculty of Medicine, University of Lisbon, Portugal.
Hepatitis delta virus (HDV) is a human pathogen that can greatly increase the severity of liver damage caused by an hepatitis B infection. HDV contains a circular, single-stranded RNA genome that encodes a unique protein, the delta antigen. Two forms of the delta antigen, deltaAg-S and deltaAg-L, are derived from a single open reading frame by RNA editing. Here we analyze the subcellular distribution of HDV RNA and its spatial relationship to known intranuclear structures. The human hepatoma cell line Huh7 was stably transfected with wild-type HDV cDNA and the viral RNAs were localized by in situ hybridization and fluorescence confocal microscopy. HDV RNA is detected throughout the nucleoplasm, with additional concentration in focal structures closely associated with nuclear speckles or clusters of interchromatin granules. Both the smaller form of the delta antigen (deltaAg-S), which is required for HDV genomic replication, and the larger form of the delta antigen (deltaAg-L), which represses replication, co-localize with delta RNA throughout the nucleoplasm and in the foci. However, the foci do not incorporate bromo-UTP and do not concentrate either RNA polymerase II or cleavage and polyadenylation factors required for viral RNA synthesis and 3' end processing, respectively. Thus, it is unlikely that the delta foci represent major sites of viral transcription or replication. In conclusion, the data show that viral RNA-protein complexes accumulate in structures closely associated with interchromatin granules, a subnuclear domain highly enriched in small nuclear ribonucleoproteins, poly(A+) RNA, and RNA splicing protein factors. This implies a specific compartmentalization of ribonucleoproteins in the nucleus.