Hepatitis B virus e antigen specific epitopes and limitations of commercial anti-HBe immunoassays

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Abstract

Current commercial hepatitis B virus (HBV) anti-HBe immunoassays are designed so that anti-HBe is detectable only in the absence of excess HBeAg. Recently, with the use of direct anti-HBe assays, anti-HBe was detected in individuals who had been seropositive for several years for HBeAg [Maruyama et al. (1993) J. Clin. Invest. 91:2586–2595]. Although anti-HBe seroconversion does not necessarily indicate subsequent HBeAg clearance, the ability to detect earlier anti-HBe seroconversion could have clinical significance for monitoring patients undergoing HBV immunotherapy (e.g., α interferon therapy). Because the HBeAg and the HBcAg share 149 amino acids, an anti-HBe assay must distinguish anti-HBe from anti-HBc antibodies. Although the HBV HBeAg and HBcAg display distinct immunogenic determinants, much remains unknown regarding the complete epitope spectrum specific to each antigen. The goal of this study was 3-fold. The first objective was to identify HBeAg specific linear epitopes. The second objective was to design an anti-HBe immunoassay capable of detecting anti-HBe specific antibody in the presence of excess HBeAg. The third objective was to characterize early anti-HBe seroconversion antibodies. The major linear epitope residing in the HBeAg amino acid sequence was mapped and 2 novel minor epitopes (δ, γ) which appear to be HBeAg specific have been identified. An anti-HBe immunoassay capable of detecting anti-HBe specific antibody in the presence of excess HBeAg was designed. Finally, it was found that early anti-HBe seroconversion antibodies appear to be conformational, whereas later seroconversion, more typically associated with the clearance of HBeAg, is characterized by the presence of antibodies to the linear HBeAg epitopes. J. Med. Virol. 60:256–263, 2000. © 2000 Wiley-Liss, Inc.

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