Hepatitis B virus (HBV), with a G-to-A point mutation at nucleotide 83 in the precore region (mutant HBV83), accounts for most cases of hepatitis B e antigen (HBeAg)-defective HBV. However, it is still not clear how mutant HBV83 is associated with HBe seroconversion. Twenty-six HBeAgpositive patients with chronic hepatitis B who received oral prednisolone (30 mg/day) for 3 weeks were studied to clarify the prevalence of mutant HBV83 during the treatment using polymerase chain reaction with a restriction fragment length polymorphism assay. Twelve (46%) patients seroconverted to anti-HBe 1 year after treatment, whereas 14 (54%) did not. The proportion of mutant HBV83 to whole HBV remained unchanged in both groups during an acute exacerbation induced by withdrawal of corticosteroids. Among 12 anti-HBe-0seroconverted patients, five (56%) of nine patients with only wild-type HBV at baseline developed detectable levels of mutant HBV83 while all three patients with a mixed viral population of wild-type HBV and mu tant HBV83 at baseline developed a higher pro portion of mutant HBV83 one year after treat ment. In contrast, these changes were observed in only one (14%) of seven who failed to seroconvert. The results indicate that a flare-up of hepa titis precedes emergence or selection of mutant HBV83, followed by HBe seroconversion in patients with chronic hepatitis B. © 1995 WiIey-Liss, Inc.