Hepatitis B: Why the immune system cannot fight the virus

Hepatitis B: Why the immune system cannot fight the virus

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Hepatitis B viruses protect themselves from an immune response with a camouflage cap

Hepatitis B is common. Around 250 million people around the world are chronically infected with the virus. Infection increases the risk of developing cirrhosis and liver cancer. The transmission takes place via body fluids (e.g. through sexual intercourse). A German research team has now clarified why our immune system has such great difficulties in fighting the virus.

In collaboration with other research groups, researchers at the Paul Ehrlich Institute have investigated how hepatitis B viruses (HBV) evade the immune system's defenses. It turned out that the virus is a true camouflage specialist. The research results were recently presented in the specialist journal “Viruses”.

How the body reacts to pathogens

Our immune system is a body's own defense system against invading pathogens. The immune system reacts to so-called pathogen-associated molecular patterns (PAMP), which are typical of a pathogen. Such patterns are recognized by certain receptors (pathogen recognition receptors), which then trigger signaling pathways and thus initiate the corresponding defense response.

Robber and gendarme

For most viruses, the molecular pattern recognized by the receptors is the genetic information of the virus, i.e. ribonucleic acid (RNA) or deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). One possible defense mechanism for viruses is to inhibit the signaling pathways triggered or to shield one's own genetic information so that it is not recognized by the immune system.

Hepatitis B viruses have not been adequately researched

The team criticizes that the treatment of a chronic HBV infection is still limited to keeping the viral load low and the health effects as low as possible through long-term use of virus statics, although the disease has been known for a long time. A basic healing therapy is not available. The main reason for this is that it is still not sufficiently understood how the virus successfully defends itself against the immune system.

Let the camouflage fly

The research group around Dr. Renate König has now come one step closer to solving this riddle. In experiments, the researchers showed that the immune system is theoretically able to produce a strong reaction as soon as it recognizes the DNA of the virus. At the same time, the team found that an actual HBV infection does not activate this pathway, even though the virus does not seem to actively suppress it.

The results indicate that the envelope of the virus, the so-called capsid, protects the DNA from being recognized. A conceivable treatment approach is to attack the capsid of the virus to make it visible so that it can be eliminated by the immune system, the research team summarizes. (vb)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.

Graduate editor (FH) Volker Blasek


  • Paul Ehrlich Institute: Tracking down the camouflage of the hepatitis B virus (published: June 11th, 2020),
  • Lise Lauterbach-Rivière, Maïwenn Bergez, Saskia Mönch, u.a .: Hepatitis B Virus DNA is a Substrate for the cGAS / STING Pathway but is not Sensed in Infected Hepatocytes; in: Viruses, 2020,

Video: Viral Hepatitis + COVID19 Clinical Considerations (September 2022).


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