The relation between viral replication, the presence of HBsAg and pre-S2 in serum and eventual clinical outcome has been investigated in fourteen patients undergoing treatment with lymphoblastoid interferon for chronic hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection. In four patients permanent loss of pre-S2 was accompanied by loss of serum HBV-DNA in association with a marked elevation of serum aspartate aminotransferase activity and in each of these cases HBsAg was subsequently cleared from serum. In contrast there was no significant fluctuation in the concentration of either pre-S2 or HBsAg in four cases not responding to therapy although substantial or complete inhibition of viral replication had been observed during treatment. In the third group, permanent loss of HBV-DNA was observed but in these cases pre-S2 and HBsAg persisted in serum, albeit at lower concentrations, while in this group loss of HBV-DNA from serum was not accompanied by a flare in disease activity.
These results suggest first, that assay of pre-S2 is a further measure of the response to interferon and second that in some cases interferon enhances immune recognition of both the pre-S2 and HBsAg polypeptides.