Background: In order to clarify the risk of hepatitis B virus (HBV) transmission from hepatitis B core antibody-positive (HBcAb(+)) donors and to evolve a new strategy to counter such a risk, we undertook a retrospective (1990-1995) and prospective (1995-1996) analysis of our experience with living related liver transplantation involving HBcAb(+) donors.
Methods: Between June 15, 1990, and June 30, 1995, HBcAb(+) individuals were not excluded as donor candidates at our institutions. For 171 liver transplants, 16 donors were HBcAb(+). Between July 1, 1995, and June 30, 1996, HBcAb(+) individuals were generally excluded as donor candidates; however, three recipients were given liver grafts from HBcAb(+) donors because other donor candidates presented even higher risks. In the latter period, recipients with transplants from HBcAb(+) donors underwent prophylactic passive immunization with hyperimmune hepatitis B immunoglobulin (HBIG). The serum of 10 HBcAb(+) donors was examined by nested polymerase chain reaction for the presence of HBV-DNA, but it was not detected in any of them. However, the same examination of the liver tissue of five such donors yielded positive results in all cases.
Results: In the first 5-year period, out of 16 recipients with HBcAb(+) donors, 15 became hepatitis B surface antigen-positive after transplant. The three recipients with HBcAb(+) donors during the second 1-year period, who were treated by prophylactic passive immunization with HBIG, remained hepatitis B surface antigen-negative and negative for serum HBV-DNA after transplant.
Conclusions: HBV exists in the liver of healthy HBcAb(+) individuals, but not in the blood. Therefore, HBV is thought to be transmitted to recipients by liver grafts from the HBcAb(+) donors at a significantly high rate. The prevention of viral activation and clinical disease development by means of passive immunization with HBIG seems promising, although the follow-up period in our study may be too short for any definitive conclusions.