The integration of hepatitis B virus (HBV) DNA in the liver of chronic HBV carriers has been documented extensively. However, the status of the viral genome during acute infection has not been assessed conclusively. While HBV DNA sequences are detected often in serum, liver, and peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) after the clearance of serum the hepatitis B virus surface antigen (HBsAg), the precise status of the viral genome, and in particular the possible persistence of integrated genomes in PBMCs, has not been established. A highly sensitive PCR-derived assay (Alu-PCR) was employed to re-examine liver and PBMC specimens obtained from patients with acute (n = 19) and chronic (n = 22) hepatitis in whom serum HBsAg was present (n = 12) (HBV-related chronic active hepatitis) or absent with anti-HCV (n = 10) (HCV-related chronic active hepatitis). Viral integration was demonstrated in 3 out of 19 liver specimens from patients with acute hepatitis and 12 out of 12 specimens from patients with chronic hepatitis. Viral integration was also observed in 4 out of 7 PBMC samples from HBV-related chronic active hepatitis patients and 2 out of 10 liver and PBMC samples from HCV-related chronic active hepatitis patients. In one liver specimen from an acute hepatitis patient, HBV DNA was found integrated in the intronic sequence of the tumour necrosis factor (TNF)-induced protein gene; viral integration into cellular sequences was also found in the PBMCs of four HBV-related chronic active hepatitis and two HCV-related chronic active hepatitis. The results demonstrate the early integration of HBV genome during acute viral infections and the persistence of the viral genome in an integrated form in PBMCs.
Copyright 2004 Wiley-Liss, Inc.