Hepatitis B virus (HBV) DNA in leucocytes from 50 hepatitis patients with various patterns of HBV serological markers and serum HBV DNA and 13 normal controls were examined by Southern blot hybridization with 32P-labeled 3.2 Kb HBV DNA. A free form of HBV DNA was observed in leucocytes of 8 patients, 7 of whom were positive for serum HBeAg, and in 6 patients an integrated form of HBV DNA was identified. HBV DNA was not identified in leucocytes from 13 normal controls.
The free form of HBV DNA in leucocytes existed as a heterogenous smear from 2.0 to 3.2 Kb, similar to the pattern in liver and hepatocellular carcinoma cells but different from serum HBV DNA in which the 3.2 Kb band was absent. The banding pattern of the integrated form of HBV DNA in leucocytes varied among different patients. During preparation of white blood cells and purification of HBV DNA probes, it was important to remove plasma contamination and traces of pBR322, respectively. The presence of extrachromosomal DNA sequences partially homologous to pBR322 could cause false results.
The presence of a free and integrated form of HBV DNA in leucocytes is important for explaining the biology of HBV, the harbouring and replication sites of extrahepatic origin, the mechanism of recurrent infection, and the rationale of the treatment of hepatitis B.