Indexed on: 30 Apr '10Published on: 30 Apr '10Published in: Clinical and vaccine immunology : CVI
Intrahepatic hepatitis B virus (HBV) core antigen (HBcAg) is a hallmark of viral replication in hepatitis B virus e antigen (HBeAg)-positive chronic hepatitis B (CHB). The aim of this study was to evaluate the role of HBcAg in HBeAg-negative CHB. One hundred six HBeAg-negative CHB patients who underwent ultrasonographically guided liver biopsy were reviewed for their HBV DNA load and clinical and histological data. Factors associated with the expression of intrahepatic HBcAg were analyzed. Among the patients, 35 (33%) were positive for HBcAg by immunohistostaining. In patients whose HBV DNA loads were higher than 10(7) copies (cp)/ml, nearly one-half (52%) had detectable HBcAg. Compared with HBcAg-negative patients, HBcAg-positive patients had higher serum alanine transaminase (ALT) and HBV DNA levels and more-severe hepatic necroinflammation. High serum ALT level (>160 U/liter) and HBV viral load were the determinants of HBcAg expression in multivariate analysis. Large amounts of HBcAg expression were frequently detected in patients with high DNA loads, and the patterns of HBcAg distribution were not related to histological activity or HBV DNA levels. In patients with lower HBV DNA loads, the expression of HBcAg was the key factor associated with active hepatic necroinflammation (hazard ratio = 11.25; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.42 to 89.26; P = 0.022). In conclusion, the expression of HBcAg is not frequent in HBeAg-negative CHB. The expression of intrahepatic HBcAg indicates active hepatic necroinflammation, even in patients with low HBV DNA load. Both HBV viral load and HBcAg expression have implications in the pathogenesis of HBeAg-negative CHB.