Background/aim: During the course of persistent hepatitis B virus infection, viral replication markedly decreases after acute exacerbation of liver inflammation accompanied by emergence of antihepatitis B e antibody (anti-HBe) and/or anti-hepatitis B surface antibody (anti-HBs). In some cases, however, persistent viral replication continues even after such exacerbation with or without HBeAg/anti-HBe seroconversion. The aim of the present study was to investigate the extent of genetic variations of HBV in this phenomenon.
Methods: Full-length HBV genomes were amplified by polymerase chain reaction from sera of three patients before and after acute exacerbation and were directly sequenced.
Results: In the whole genomes of 3215 nucleotides, only six nucleotide mutations for six amino acid substitutions (2 in the surface gene, 2 in the X gene, 1 in the core gene and 1 in the polymerase gene) were observed in patient 1, 15 mutations for 14 amino acid substitutions (1 in the pre-core codon 28, 4 in the surface gene, 4 in the core gene and 5 in the polymerase gene) were observed in patient 2, and 5 mutations for 6 amino acid substitutions (2 in the surface gene, 2 in the X gene, pre-core stop codon mutation and 1 in the polymerase gene) were observed in patient 3. Substitution in the a determinant of the surface gene, which encodes target epitopes for neutralizing antibodies, as well as those in the pre-core/core gene, which encodes epitopes for cytotoxic T cells, were mainly found.
Conclusion: HBV that remained after the emergence of anti-HBe and anti-HBs are considered to possess mutations in epitopes for both humoral and cellular immunity. These mutant HBV may be involved in the pathogenesis of persistent hepatic injury after acute exacerbation.