Infection with hepatitis B virus leads to a wide spectrum of liver injury, including self-limited acute hepatitis, fulminant hepatitis, and chronic hepatitis with progression to cirrhosis or acute exacerbation to liver failure, as well as an asymptomatic chronic carrier state. Several studies have suggested that the hepatitis B core antigen could be an immunological target of cytotoxic T lymphocytes. To investigate the reason why the extreme immunological attack occurred in fulminant hepatitis and severe exacerbation patients, the entire precore and core region of hepatitis B virus DNA was sequenced in 24 subjects (5 fulminant, 10 severe fatal exacerbation, and 9 self-limited acute hepatitis patients). No significant change in the nucleotide sequence and deduced amino acid residue was noted in the nine self-limited acute hepatitis patients. In contrast, clustering changes in a small segment of 16 amino acids (codon 84-99 from the start of the core gene) in all seven adr subtype infected fulminant and severe exacerbation patients was found. A different segment with clustering substitutions (codon 48-60) was also found in seven of eight adw subtype infected fulminant and severe exacerbation patients. Of the 15 patients, 2 lacked precore stop mutation which was previously reported to be associated with fulminant hepatitis. These data suggest that these core regions with mutations may play an important role in the pathogenesis of hepatitis B viral disease, and such mutations are related to severe liver damage.