Hepadnaviruses (hepatitis B viruses) cause transient and chronic infections of the liver. Transient infections run a course of several months, and chronic infections are often lifelong. Chronic infections can lead to liver failure with cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma. The replication strategy of these viruses has been described in great detail, but virus-host interactions leading to acute and chronic disease are still poorly understood. Studies on how the virus evades the immune response to cause prolonged transient infections with high-titer viremia and lifelong infections with an ongoing inflammation of the liver are still at an early stage, and the role of the virus in liver cancer is still elusive. The state of knowledge in this very active field is therefore reviewed with an emphasis on past accomplishments as well as goals for the future.
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