The competence of non-hepatocytes to support hepatitis B virus (HBV) gene expression and replication was studied by transient transfection of various human cell lines with a head-to-tail dimer of HBV DNA. Independent of their neuroectodermal, mesenchymal or epithelial origin, all non-hepatocyte cell lines tested synthesized and secreted hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg) and hepatitis B core/e antigen (HBc/eAg). Further analyses of two of these cell lines (LS 180 and COLO 320) identified the two major HBV transcripts of 3.6 and 2.2/2.4 kb length, respectively. LS 180 cells were permissive for HBV and duck hepatitis B virus (DHBV) DNA replication and secretion of infectious virions. COLO 320 cells also supported HBV DNA replication, but did not appear to export complete viral particles. These findings provide direct evidence that both HBV and DHBV can replicate in non-hepatic tumour cell lines, one of which is shown also to produce infectious virions.