Background: Successful treatment of hepatitis B can be achieved only if the template for hepatitis B virus (HBV) DNA replication, the covalently closed circular HBV DNA (cccDNA) can be completely cleared. To date, detecting cccDNA remains clinically challenging. The purpose of this study was to develop a nested real-time quantitative polymerase chain reaction (PCR) assay for detecting HBV cccDNA in peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) and bone marrow mononuclear cells (MMNCs).
Methods: Based on the structural differences between HBV cccDNA and HBV relaxed circular DNA (rcDNA), two pairs of primers were synthesized as well as a downstream TaqMan probe. Blood and bone marrow samples were collected from hepatitis B patients and healthy controls. To remove rcDNA, samples were incubated with mung bean nuclease and the resultant purified HBV cccDNA was then amplified by nested real-time fluorescence quantitative PCR. The cccDNA levels were calculated using a positive standard.
Results: The nested real-time fluorescence quantitative PCR method for HBV cccDNA was successful, with a linear range of 3.0 × 10(2) copies/ml to 3.9 × 10(8) copies/ml. Of the 25 PBMC samples and 7 MMNC samples obtained from chronic hepatitis B or liver cirrhosis patients, 3 MMNC samples and 9 PBMC samples were positive for HBV cccDNA, while all of the 21 PBMC samples from healthy controls were negative.
Conclusion: The nested real-time fluorescence quantitative PCR may be used as an important tool for detecting cccDNA in hepatitis B patients.