Chronic Hepatitis B Virus (HBV) infection is generally not curable with current anti-viral drugs. Virus rebounds after stopping treatment from the stable HBV covalently-closed-circular DNA (cccDNA). The development of drugs that directly target cccDNA is hampered by the lack of robust HBV cccDNA models. We report here a novel HBV cccDNA technology that will meet the need. We engineered a minicircle HBV cccDNA with a Gaussia Luciferase reporter (mcHBV-GLuc cccDNA), which serves as a surrogate to measure cccDNA activity. The mcHBV-GLuc cccDNA was easily produced in bacteria, and it formed minichromosomes as HBV cccDNA episome DNA does when it was transfected into human hepatocytes. Compared to non-HBV minicircle plasmids, mcHBV-GLuc cccDNA showed persistent HBV-GLuc activity and HBx-dependent gene expression. Importantly, the mcHBV-GLuc cccDNA showed resistance to interferons (IFN) treatment, indicating its unique similarity to HBV cccDNA that is usually resistant to long-term IFN treatment in chronic HBV patients. Most importantly, GLuc illuminates cccDNA as a surrogate of cccDNA activity, providing a very sensitive and quick method to detect trace amount of cccDNA. The mcHBV-GLuc cccDNA model is independent of HBV infection, and will be valuable for investigating HBV cccDNA biology and for developing cccDNA-targeting drugs.
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