Viral hepatitis is a major cause of morbidity and mortality, affecting hundreds of millions of people worldwide. Hepatitis-causing viruses initiate disease by establishing both acute and chronic infections, and several of these viruses are specifically associated with the development of hepatocellular carcinoma. Consequently, intense research efforts have been focusing on increasing our understanding of hepatitis virus biology and on improving antiviral therapy and vaccination strategies. Although valuable information on viral hepatitis emerged from careful epidemiological studies on sporadic outbreaks in humans, experimental models using cell culture, rodent and non-human primates were essential in advancing the field. Through the use of these experimental models, improvement in both the treatment and prevention of viral hepatitis has progressed rapidly; however, agents of viral hepatitis are still among the most common pathogens infecting humans. In this Review, we describe the important part that these experimental models have played in the study of viral hepatitis and led to monumental advances in our understanding and treatment of these pathogens. Ongoing developments in experimental models are also described.
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