Transient transfection and in vitro infection experiments were performed to characterize replication and antigen synthesis of the hepatitis B virus (HBV) in human hepatocyte lines HH29 and HHY41, derived from normal liver tissue. These liver cell lines are capable of supporting HBV replication and gene expression at levels similar to the human hepatoma cell line HuH-7. Strikingly, a very tight adhesion of HBV to the outer cell membrane of HH29 and HHY41 was observed under conditions that removed HBV to undetectable levels from HuH-7 hepatoma cells. However, no productive HBV infection could be established in these cells as determined by the absence of viral transcripts and de novo antigen synthesis. In conclusion, the human hepatocyte cell lines HH29 and HHY41 may be useful to study important aspects of late steps in the replication of HBV, but appear to lack certain cellular components that play a pivotal role during early steps of the viral life cycle.