Arsenic trioxide impacts hepatitis B virus core nuclear localization and efficiently interferes with HBV infection

Samuel Hofmann, Julius Luther, Verena Plank, Andreas Oswald, Julia Mai, Ilka Simons, Julija Miller, Valeria Falcone, Lea Hansen-Palmus, Hartmut Hengel, Michael Nassal, Ulrike Protzer, Sabrina Schreiner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The key to a curative treatment of hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection is the eradication of the intranuclear episomal covalently closed circular DNA (cccDNA), the stable persistence reservoir of HBV. Currently, established therapies can only limit HBV replication but fail to tackle the cccDNA. Thus, novel therapeutic approaches toward curative treatment are urgently needed. Recent publications indicated a strong association between the HBV core protein SUMOylation and the association with promyelocytic leukemia nuclear bodies (PML-NBs) on relaxed circular DNA to cccDNA conversion. We propose that interference with the cellular SUMOylation system and PML-NB integrity using arsenic trioxide provides a useful tool in the treatment of HBV infection. Our study showed a significant reduction in HBV-infected cells, core protein levels, HBV mRNA, and total DNA. Additionally, a reduction, albeit to a limited extent, of HBV cccDNA could be observed. Furthermore, this interference was also applied for the treatment of an established HBV infection, characterized by a stably present nuclear pool of cccDNA. Arsenic trioxide (ATO) treatment not only changed the amount of expressed HBV core protein but also induced a distinct relocalization to an extranuclear phenotype during infection. Moreover, ATO treatment resulted in the redistribution of transfected HBV core protein away from PML-NBs, a phenotype similar to that previously observed with SUMOylation-deficient HBV core. Taken together, these findings revealed the inhibition of HBV replication by ATO treatment during several steps of the viral replication cycle, including viral entry into the nucleus as well as cccDNA formation and maintenance. We propose ATO as a novel prospective treatment option for further pre-clinical and clinical studies against HBV infection.

Original languageEnglish
JournalMicrobiology Spectrum
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2024
Externally publishedYes


  • HBV
  • PML-NB
  • SUMO
  • antivirals
  • arsenic
  • cccDNA
  • dsDNA viruses
  • hepatitis B virus


Dive into the research topics of 'Arsenic trioxide impacts hepatitis B virus core nuclear localization and efficiently interferes with HBV infection'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this