Multiple surface antigen mutations in five blood donors with occult hepatitis B virus infection

J Med Virol. 2008 Aug;80(8):1344-9. doi: 10.1002/jmv.21233.


Occult hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection is characterized by the presence of HBV DNA while the HBV surface antigen (HBsAg) remains undetectable. The HBV genomes in five asymptomatic blood donors with occult HBV infection and low viremia (<10 to 1,000 HBV DNA copies/mL, genotype D) were studied. An unusually large number of amino acid mutations was present in the immunodominant a-determinant of HBsAg (respectively 3, 6, 7, 10, and 10 mutations). Comparison of the HBV genomes in two donors to a consensus HBV genotype D sequence showed a most prominent hotspot of genetic variation in HBV nucleotides 480-570, encoding the HBsAg a-determinant. The phylogenetic comparison of separate donor HBV genes to the HBV genes of 11 reference strains (genotypes A-H) showed the donor HBV surface genes to form an outgroup, while the HBV polymerase, core and X genes closely cluster with the HBV genotype D reference strain. Maybe the HBV strains in this study represent a natural end-stage of seemingly cleared HBV infection, in which HBV maintains a low level of possibly non-infectious replication, after sacrificing its immunologically offending surface antigen, thus avoiding final clearance by the immune system.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Blood Donors*
  • DNA, Viral / blood*
  • Female
  • Hepatitis B / blood*
  • Hepatitis B / virology
  • Hepatitis B Surface Antigens / blood
  • Hepatitis B Surface Antigens / chemistry
  • Hepatitis B Surface Antigens / genetics*
  • Hepatitis B virus / genetics*
  • Hepatitis B virus / immunology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Mutation*
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA


  • DNA, Viral
  • Hepatitis B Surface Antigens

Associated data

  • GENBANK/EU155889
  • GENBANK/EU155890
  • GENBANK/EU155891
  • GENBANK/EU155892
  • GENBANK/EU155893
  • GENBANK/EU155894
  • GENBANK/EU155895