An unusual and intriguing feature of HBV infection is the presence in the blood of not only virions, but also large quantities of non-infectious particles that have been released from infected liver cells (Figure 18.6). These particles are composed of lipid and virus envelope proteins, but they do not contain nucleocapsids. Some of the particles are spheres and some are filaments; both have diameters of 22 nm and the filaments have variable lengths up to 200 nm.
All the particles (virions and non-infectious particles) are much more abundant in the blood than in the liver, and the non-infectious particles, especially the spheres, vastly outnumber the virions. Presumably the virus has a good reason for inducing the production of such large amounts of non-infectious material, but that reason is not understood. It has been suggested that it might be a decoy for antibodies, thereby providing virions with some protection from the host's immune system.
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