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Identification of PLK1 as a proviral factor for the hepatitis B virus replication : A possible target for antiviral and anticancerous drug development

Abstract : In highly HBV endemic regions, 70-80% of hepatocellular carcinoma cases are attributable to this virus. Despite the existence of an HBV vaccine, the World Health Organization estimates 240 million individuals are chronically infected with HBV worldwide. Current antiviral treatments to control chronic HBV infections, and consequently reduce the incidence of liver cancer, are ineffective. New and effective therapies are needed not only for fighting the virus but also to prevent HCC emergence or progression. The polo-like-kinase 1 (PLK1), which plays pivotal roles in mitosis and is over-expressed in many human cancers, represents a promising druggable target in oncology. Beside its role during cell division, PLK1 is also thought to be involved in gene expression regulation during interphase. It was shown that the X protein (HBx) could activate PLK1 in murine cell transformation models. Yet it remained to be determined whether PLK1 could also play a role for HBV replication in non-dividing hepatocytes. Our, and collaborators, recent studies have identified a positive link between PLK1 activation and HBV replication. The goal of this thesis project was to investigate the mechanism(s) by which PLK1 exerts a positive effect on HBV replication, with the future goal of exploring PLK1 as an antiviral target. The interplay between PLK1 and HBV replication was firstly described using the HepAD38 cellular model of HBV replication. In this context, the HBV DNA is stably integrated into the host genome, under control of a Tet-off expression system. Transcription of HBV pregenomic RNA (pgRNA), the template of viral replication, is initiated by tetracycline removal. It has been shown that in HBV-replicating HepAD38 cells, increased PLK1 expression correlates with down-regulation of two proteins that are components of chromatin modifying complexes; SUZ12 protein of the PRC2 complex, and ZNF198 of the LSD1-CoREST-HDAC1 complex. PLK1 inhibition was described to inhibit HBV replication by reducing viral transcription. How PLK1 regulates HBV transcription remains unknown. On the other hand, in HBV replication models that resemble physiologic HBV infection, comprised of Primary Human Hepatocytes (PHH) and non-transformed/differentiated HepaRG cells (dHepaRG), where HBV replicates in non-transformed and non-dividing cells, thus enabling the study of the inter-phasic role of PLK1, irrespective of its well-established cell division implication, we have demonstrated that: 1) A pharmacological inhibition of PLK1 suppressed HBV replication by a different mechanism, likely targeting the packaging of pgRNA by the HBV core antigen (HBc). 2) Knocking-down PLK1 using siRNA delivered by lipid nanoparticles (LNP siPLK1) results in a strong drop of HBV DNAs, RNAs and HBe/HBsAg secretion without affecting the cell viability. This thesis project brought the proof of concept that PLK1 could be a drug target in HBV infection. Furthermore, the use of LNP allowed us to improve the delivery of siPLK1 to hepatocytes. Significantly, PLK1 inhibition is not toxic to quiescent cells in comparison to fast growing cancer cells, rendering PLK1 an attractive therapy target. High level of viremia in chronic HBV patients is a risk factor for progression to liver cancer. PLK1 specific inhibitors are already in clinical trials for other types of cancer (e.g., acute myeloid leukaemia) and could serve as bimodal therapy in HBV infected patients, by inhibiting virus replication as well as preventing emergence and spreading of neoplastic cells. This project was part of a full-working group of experts and thus, has beneficiated of a strong support. The proximity of the oncology-specialized hospital, the Centre Léon Bérard provided us with fresh hepatic biopsy [etc...]
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Adrien Foca. Identification of PLK1 as a proviral factor for the hepatitis B virus replication : A possible target for antiviral and anticancerous drug development. Virology. Université de Lyon, 2018. English. ⟨NNT : 2018LYSE1310⟩. ⟨tel-02007766⟩

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