Author(s): R Bridget Ferns, Nikolai V Naoumov, Richard J Gilson, Richard S Tedder
Background: In patients with chronic hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection DNA levels do not always fall after anti-hepatitis B e (anti-HBe) seroconversion.
Objectives: To follow longitudinally through HB e antigen (HBeAg) loss HBV DNA levels and core promoter/precore sequences in a cohort of 21 chronic HBV carriers.
Study design: Treatment-naïve HBeAg seropositive HBV carriers were monitored through HBeAg loss for between 2 and 22 years (mean 9.3). Core promoter/precore sequences, genotypes, HBV DNA levels and HBe status were determined.
Results: Patients were grouped into those in whom serum/plasma HBV DNA remained high after HBeAg loss (group 1, n = 11; HBV DNA > 5 log10 IU/ml) and those in whom HBV DNA declined (group 2, n = 10). Re-appearance of HBeAg was seen in seven group 1 patients. Pre-seroconversion mutations in the core promoter region including A1762T and/or G1764A were detected more frequently in group 1 (P = 0.031). Overall sequence changes at sites other than 1762/1764 were more common post-seroconversion in group 1 than group 2 patients (P = 0.037).
Conclusions: The presence of core promoter mutations prior to HBeAg loss identified those patients in whom HBV DNA persisted at high levels and was associated with temporary re-emergence of serum HBeAg. These patients may benefit from early anti-viral treatment.