Introduction: The biologic response modifiers are a diverse group of medications that have emerged over the last decade. They target pro-inflammatory cytokines or cell surface molecules that drive illnesses such as rheumatoid arthritis. Despite the greater control afforded they have also ushered in a new spectrum of side effects. As the same immunologic machinery that helps control infections such as HBV contributes to the pathogenesis of rheumatologic diseases, persistence or reactivation of the virus remains an evolving concern.
Areas covered: A systemic literature review was performed using the PubMed and Medline databases (1996 to January 2010) searching for the index term 'Hepatitis B' combined with the terms 'tumor necrosis factor', 'B cell', 'rituximab', 'IL-1', 'anakinra', 'IL-6', 'tocilizumab', 'CTLA-4', and 'abatacept'. All relevant articles in English were reviewed and secondary references of interest were also retrieved. This paper addresses the role of the various cytokines and cluster of differentiation molecules in controlling HBVinfection and the currently known effect that the biologic response modifiers have on viral control by the host immune response.
Expert opinion: The risk of HBV reactivation is greatest in HBsAg positive patients. These patients should start antiviral therapy one week before receiving a biologic response modifier. The risk of HBV reactivation in HBsAg negative patients appears very low but when HBsAb titers are low use of rituximab or TNF-α antagonists may increase the risk of reactivation.