A 2010 update on occult hepatitis B infection

Pathol Biol (Paris). 2010 Aug;58(4):254-7. doi: 10.1016/j.patbio.2010.02.003. Epub 2010 Mar 19.


Occult hepatitis B virus infection is a challenging issue whose virological and clinical relevance has been a source of long-lasting debate. By definition, OBI is characterized by the persistence of HBV-DNA in the liver tissue (and in some cases also in the serum) in absence of HBsAg. According to the HBV serological profile, OBI may be antibody (anti-HBc alone or together with anti-HBs) positive (seropositive OBI) or antibody negative (seronegative OBI). OBI is a complex biological entity with possible relevant clinical implications, mainly related to the intrahepatic persistence of viral cccDNA and to a strong suppression of viral replication and gene expression. Clinical observations suggest that OBI carriers may be a source of HBV transmission through blood transfusion or orthotopic liver transplantation (OLT). The state of suppression of viral replication and gene expression may be discontinued when an immunosuppressive status occurs, leading to typical hepatitis B with severe - and some times - fulminant course. The long-lasting persistence of the virus in the liver may provoke a very mild but continuing necro-inflammation that (if other causes of liver damage cohexist) may contribute over time to the progression of the chronic liver damage towards cirrhosis. In addition, OBI is supposed to be an important risk factor to HCC development since it maintains the pro-oncogenic properties typical of the overt infection.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • DNA, Viral / analysis
  • Hepatitis B Surface Antigens / analysis
  • Hepatitis B virus / genetics
  • Hepatitis B virus / immunology
  • Hepatitis B, Chronic / diagnosis*
  • Hepatitis B, Chronic / transmission
  • Hepatitis B, Chronic / virology*
  • Humans
  • Liver / virology
  • Organ Transplantation / adverse effects
  • Serologic Tests
  • Transfusion Reaction


  • DNA, Viral
  • Hepatitis B Surface Antigens