Hepatitis flares and hepatitis B e antigen seroconversion: implication in anti-hepatitis B virus therapy

J Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2003 Mar;18(3):246-52. doi: 10.1046/j.1440-1746.2003.02976.x.


Hepatitis flares or acute exacerbations, defined as an abrupt elevation of serum alanine aminotransferase (ALT) over fivefold the upper limit of normal (ULN), of chronic hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection are the results of HLA-I restricted, cytotoxic T lymphocyte (CTL)-mediated immune response against HBV and its downstream mechanisms. Higher ALT levels reflect a more vigorous immune response and a more extensive hepatolysis that, in the extreme situation, may lead to decompensation and failure. In contrast, higher ALT also reflects a more robust immune clearance of HBV and, therefore, a higher chance of HBV-DNA loss and hepatitis B e antigen (HBeAg) seroconversion, both in the setting of natural course and drug therapy. Alanine aminotransferase of fivefold the ULN appears to be a significant cut-off level to categorize the patients in terms of endogenous immune response against HBV. Patients with ALT levels less than fivefold the ULN or those with a less vigorous immune response require immunomodulation to induce robust immune response to enhance HBV clearance. In contrast, those with a more vigorous immune response or those with ALT flare over fivefold the ULN should be monitored closely for spontaneous HBV clearance/HBeAg seroconversion or to start direct antiviral therapy in time to prevent the occurrence or deterioration of hepatic decompensation. In conclusion, a better understanding of the pathogenetic mechanisms and natural course of hepatitis flares, wiser selection of patients and the timing of drug therapy are crucial to achieve better treatment results.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alanine Transaminase / blood
  • Antiviral Agents / immunology
  • Antiviral Agents / therapeutic use
  • Hepatitis B Antibodies / immunology
  • Hepatitis B Antibodies / therapeutic use
  • Hepatitis B Surface Antigens / blood
  • Hepatitis B Surface Antigens / immunology
  • Hepatitis B e Antigens / blood
  • Hepatitis B e Antigens / immunology*
  • Hepatitis B, Chronic / drug therapy
  • Hepatitis B, Chronic / immunology*
  • Hepatitis B, Chronic / pathology
  • Humans


  • Antiviral Agents
  • Hepatitis B Antibodies
  • Hepatitis B Surface Antigens
  • Hepatitis B e Antigens
  • Alanine Transaminase