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Abstract

Mutations in the core promoter and precore regions are frequently found in hepatitis B e antigen (HBeAg)-negative patients, but precore stop codon mutation is restricted to hepatitis B virus (HBV) genotypes that have T at nucleotide 1858. The aims of this study were to determine the role of core promoter and/or precore mutations in HBeAg seroconversion and their impact on the subsequent course of liver disease, and to determine if core promoter mutations are more frequently selected in patients with HBV genotypes that preclude the development of precore stop codon mutation. Serial sera from 45 patients with chronic HBV infection were polymerase chain reaction (PCR)-amplified, and the HBV core promoter and precore regions were sequenced. Ninety-two percent of patients had core promoter or precore mutations after HBeAg seroconversion: 42% had core promoter changes only, 38% had precore stop codon mutations only, and 12% had changes in both regions. Seventy-three percent of the patients had persistently normal aminotransferases, and only 8% had multiple flares in aminotransferases after HBeAg seroconversion. Core promoter changes were significantly more common in patients infected with HBV who have C at nucleotide 1858 (91% vs. 27%; P < .01), while precore stop codon changes were exclusively found in patients infected with HBV who have T at nucleotide 1858 (87% vs. 0; P < .01). The vast majority of our patients had core promoter and/or precore mutations after HBeAg seroconversion. Nevertheless, most patients had sustained remission of liver disease. Our data suggest that core promoter changes are preferentially selected in patients infected with HBV genotypes that preclude the development of precore stop codon mutation.