Mutations in the hepatitis B virus precore/core gene and core promoter in patients with severe recurrent disease following liver transplantation

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Abstract

Recurrent hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection is a major problem in patients undergoing liver transplantation. Previously, we reported that infection with HBV strains containing a mutation in the precore region (G-to-A at nucleotide 1896) was associated with severe recurrent disease posttransplantation. In this study we investigated other mutations in the precore/core gene and core promoter which may be associated with this severe recurrence. The precore/core gene and core promoter of HBV from pre and posttransplantation sera of 15 patients with HBV recurrence were amplified by polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and sequenced. Pre and posttransplant sequences were very similar for each patient. HBV from patients who developed severe recurrence had significantly more mutations in both the nucleotide (P < .05) and predicted amino acid (P < .05) sequences of the precore/core gene, but not in the core promoter, than virus from patients with mild recurrence. There was also an apparent link between severe disease and HBV strains of genotype D (P < .05). The number of nucleotide and amino acid mutations in the precore/core gene was strongly associated with the presence of the precore mutation (P < .01). Mutations were found throughout the entire gene, however, at the amino acid level clustering was observed in the B- and helper T-cell epitopes as well as nuclear localization signals. In the encapsidation signal, nucleotide mutations were found that were predicted to increase the stability of the stem-loop structure. Overall, our data shows that genotype D and accumulated mutations throughout the HBV precore/core gene, but not core promoter, were associated with severe recurrent disease posttransplantation. These mutations were strongly linked to the presence of the precore mutation at nucleotide position 1896 and may contribute to the poor outcome in these patients.

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