Date of this Version
GASTROENTEROLOGY 2004;127:S283–S293; doi:10.1053/j.gastro.2004.09.043
The Eastern woodchuck (Marmota monax) harbors a DNA virus (Woodchuck hepatitis virus [WHV]) that is similar in structure and replicative life cycle to the human hepatitis B virus (HBV). Like HBV, WHV infects the liver and can cause acute and chronic hepatitis. Furthermore, chronic WHV infection in woodchucks usually leads to development of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) within the first 2–4 years of life. The woodchuck model has been important in the preclinical evaluation of safety and efficacy of the antiviral drugs now in use for treatment of HBV infection and continues to serve as an important, predictive model for innovative forms of therapy of hepatitis B using antiviral nucleosides and immune response modifiers alone or in combination. Almost all woodchucks that become chronic WHV carriers after experimental neonatal inoculation develop HCC with a median HCC-free survival of 24 months and a median life expectancy of 30–32 months. The woodchuck model of viral induced HCC has been used effectively for the development of new imaging agents for enhancement of detection of hepatic neoplasms by ultrasound and magnetic resonance imaging. The chemoprevention of HCC using long-term antiviral nucleoside therapy has been shown in the woodchuck, and “proof of principal” has been established for some of the innovative, molecular methods for treatment of HCC. The model is available for fundamental investigations of the viral and molecular mechanisms responsible for hepatocarcinogenesis and should have substantial value for future development of innovative methods for chemoprevention and gene therapy of human HCC.