Targeting hepatitis B virus cccDNA using CRISPR/Cas9.
Despite the existence of an excellent prophylactic vaccine and the development of highly effective inhibitors of the viral polymerase, chronic hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection remains a major source of morbidity and mortality, especially in Africa and Asia. A significant problem is that, while polymerase inhibitors can effectively prevent the production of viral genomic DNA from pre-genomic RNA transcripts, they do not prevent the transcription and translation of viral mRNAs from the covalently closed circular DNA (cccDNA) templates present in the nuclei of infected cells. Moreover, because these cccDNAs are highly stable, chronic HBV infections are only very rarely cured by the use of polymerase inhibitors and these drugs clearly cannot entirely prevent the subsequent development of HBV-related morbidities such as cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma. As a result, there has been considerable interest in the possibility of developing treatment approaches that directly target cccDNA for elimination. Here, we discuss recent publications that analyze the ability of the bacterial CRISPR/Cas DNA editing machinery to be repurposed as a tool for the specific cleavage and destruction of HBV cccDNAs in the nuclei of infected cells and consider which steps will be necessary to make CRISPR/Cas targeting of HBV DNA a clinically feasible approach to the treatment of chronic infections in humans. This article forms part of a symposium in Antiviral Research on "An unfinished story: from the discovery of the Australia antigen to the development of new curative therapies for hepatitis B."
Kennedy, EM; Kornepati, AVR; Cullen, BR
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