Hepatitis Be antigen (HBeAg) seroconversion is considered the principal short-term goal of antiviral therapy in chronic hepatitis B. To test whether the pre- and per-treatment HBeAg quantitation has a higher predictive value than that of hepatitis B virus DNA (HBV-DNA) quantitation for the outcome of antiviral therapy in chronic hepatitis B. A quantitative measurement of HBV-DNA and HBeAg (AxSYM HBe 2.0 Quantitative, Abbott Laboratories) was undertaken in serial serum samples from 30 patients with 16-week interferon-α (IFN-α) treatment (follow-up 36 weeks; 14 responders) and from 15 patients with 24-week lamivudine treatment (follow-up 24 weeks; 2 responders).
In the group of interferon-treated patients, the median pretreatment HBV-DNA level was significantly lower in responders compared to nonresponders (P = 0.02); the difference in median HBeAg level was not significant. However, the percentage of response was significantly related (P = 0.003) to the magnitude of decline in HBeAg level between the start of therapy and week 4. This phenomenon was not observed for HBV-DNA. Using multivariate analysis, it was found that the fall of HBeAg levels between weeks 0 and 4 was the most important independent predictor of response. In the group of lamivudine treated patients, the rapid decline in HBV-DNA (>90%) in 12 patients at week 4 had no relation to HBeAg seroconversion. In contrast, the fall in HBeAg-level (one patient with >50% reduction at week 4 seroconverted) appears to be predictive. Quantitation of HBeAg at start and early during therapy may have clinically important predictive value for long-term response to antiviral therapy. J. Med. Virol. 53:282–287, 1997. © 1997 Wiley-Liss, Inc.