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Hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection is one of the major health problems in the world. Of particular concern is the chronic course of the disease, which kills more than 800,000 people worldwide each year. So far, there is no cure for the condition. “The discovery of a new hepatitis B virus in donkeys and zebras that can cause long-term infections provides an opportunity to better understand the chronic course of the disease and reduce or prevent serious clinical consequences. Was obtained. ” Dr. Janfelix Drexler, a DZIF researcher at Charite University School of Medicine Berlin. At the German Center for Infection Research (DZIF), he identifies and characterizes new viruses that can be dangerous to humans.

“Five years ago, we were able to show for the first time that donkeys carry a virus that is genetically associated with the human hepatitis C virus,” said the lead author of the study, DZIF Science at Charite University of Medicine Berlin. Andre Rush explains. Because HBV and hepatitis C virus (HCV) often occur together in humans, researchers searched for HBV in donkeys around the world. In addition to fieldwork, a wide range of molecular biology, serology, histopathology and evolutionary biology methods were used. “We surveyed nearly 3000 samples from horses, including donkeys, zebras, and horses on five continents. Donkeys were found to be global carriers of the new hepatitis B virus.” Drexler explains.

The origin of the new HBV may be related to the domestication of donkeys in Africa thousands of years ago. Donkeys are naturally infected not only with HCV but also with HBV. Zebras are also infected with HBV. Horses are also likely to be receptive, but early studies did not allow scientists to identify naturally infected horses. In naturally infected donkeys, the course of infection resembles chronic hepatitis B in humans.

“The new hepatitis B virus appears to use unknown receptors to invade host cells,” said the second lead author of the study, studying the molecular biology of virus binding and invasion. Felix Lehmann, a DZIF scientist at the University of Giessen (JLU), explains. In cell culture. The emergence of human HBV and the development of its receptor use remain unclear and are being jointly investigated by researchers in Berlin and Giessen.

“Because the virus cannot infect human hepatocytes, there is a high probability that human infection with this virus can be ruled out,” emphasized Dr. Dieter Gleeve, director of the National Reference Center for Hepatitis B and D viruses. I will. JLU and DZIF scientists in the “Hepatitis” research unit. Scientists are convinced that the inclusion of the virus in donkeys and zebras can better understand the etiology of chronic hepatitis B and coinfection of HBV / HCV and lay the foundation for new treatments. I will.

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