Background & aims: Our aims were to study the virologic, histologic, and clinical outcome in chronic hepatitis B (CHB) patients with hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg) seroclearance.
Methods: We determined the age of HBsAg seroclearance that is associated with a lower risk for hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) in 298 CHB patients (median follow-up, 108 months). The following virologic and histologic features were also determined: liver stiffness (n = 229), liver histology, serum HBV DNA levels over time (n = 265), intrahepatic HBV DNA with covalently closed circular DNA (cccDNA) levels, and messenger RNA (mRNA) expression.
Results: The median age of HBsAg seroclearance was 49.6 years. Seven (2.4%) patients developed HCC. Cumulative risk for HCC was higher in patients with HBsAg seroclearance at ages >or=50 years compared with those with HBsAg seroclearance at ages <50 (P = .004) years. Of these 2 groups of patients, 29.5% and 7.9%, respectively, had significant fibrosis by liver stiffness measurement (P = .001), and 15.4% of patients had mild histologic fibrosis. Intrahepatic total HBV DNA and cccDNA were detected in 100% and 79.3% of patients, respectively. All patients had undetectable surface and precore/pregenomic RNA transcripts. One (9.1%) patient had X mRNA expression. Serum HBV DNA were detectable in 13.4%, 6.1%, and 3.7% of patients within 1 year and 5-10 and >10 years after HBsAg seroclearance, respectively, and 82.1% patients had persistently normal alanine aminotransferase levels.
Conclusions: HBV persisted at low replicative and transcriptional levels after HBsAg seroclearance. HBsAg seroclearance at age <50 years was associated with a lower risk for the development of HCC.