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Abstract

Peginterferon (PEG-IFN) treatment of hepatitis B e antigen (HBeAg)-positive chronic hepatitis B (CHB) results in HBeAg loss in 30% of patients, but clearance of hepatitis B virus (HBV) DNA and hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg) from serum is less often achieved. We investigated whether the presence of precore (PC) and basal core promoter (BCP) mutants before PEG-IFN treatment affects serological and virological response. A total of 214 HBeAg-positive CHB patients treated with PEG-IFN±lamivudine for 52 weeks in a global randomized trial were classified at baseline as wildtype (WT) or non-WT (detectable mutants at PC/BCP) by line-probe assay. Response was assessed at 6 months posttreatment and through long-term follow-up (LTFU). Mutants were detected in 64% of patients, in varying frequencies across HBV genotypes A through D. Patients with WT had higher baseline HBV DNA, HBeAg, and HBsAg levels than patients with non-WT. Patients with WT were more likely to achieve HBeAg loss with HBV DNA <10,000 copies/mL (response, 34 versus 11%, P < 0.001) and HBsAg clearance (18 versus 2%, P < 0.001) at week 78 than non-WT patients. Among WT patients who achieved HBeAg clearance at week 78, 78% had undetectable HBV DNA and 61% achieved HBsAg clearance at LTFU (versus 26% and 15% in non-WT patients, P < 0.001 for both). The presence of WT virus at baseline was an independent predictor of response (odds ratio [OR] 2.90, 95% confidence interval [CI]: 1.15-7.31, P = 0.023) and HBsAg clearance (OR 5.58, 95% CI: 1.26-24.63, P = 0.013) and patients with non-A genotypes with detectable mutants had a low probability of response. Conclusion: The presence of only WT virus at baseline is a strong predictor of response (HBeAg loss with HBV DNA <10,000 copies/mL) to PEG-IFN for HBeAg-positive CHB. Patients with detectable PC and/or BCP mutants have a lower probability of response and are less optimal candidates for PEG-IFN therapy. (HEPATOLOGY 2012;56:67–75)