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Keywords:

  • hepatitis infection;
  • genotypes;
  • HBV mutants;
  • molecular epidemiology;
  • Tunisia

Abstract

Hepatitis B virus (HBV) is characterized by genetic heterogeneity, including genotypes and mutations. Eight genotypes (A–H) have been identified throughout the world with a characteristic geographical distribution. Previous studies also suggest that the viral genotypes may correlate with differences in clinical features of the infection. Two types of mutations were particularly described, precore and basal promoter mutations; they may play an important role in the clinical outcome of HBV infection. The aim of this study was to investigate the prevalence of HBV genotypes and HBV variants in Tunisia, and their eventual association with severity of liver disease. Using a molecular method, HBV genotypes, precore and basal core promoter mutations were determined in 56 asymptomatic carriers and in 82 patients with histologically verified chronic liver disease and hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). Three genotypes (D, A, and E) were detected; the prevalence was 80%, 8%, and 9%, respectively. No significant difference was observed for genotype D with clinical status. HBV mutants were detected in 93% of cases, precore mutants were the most prevalent. Basal core promoter mutants were observed in 61% of cases, they were frequently characterized by a double mutation in 1762 and 1764. Co-infection by these two types of mutants was detected in 50% of cases. Genotype D was the most prevalent HBV genotype in Tunisia. High circulation of precore and basal core promoter mutants are common in chronic hepatitis B infection in Tunisia. J. Med. Virol. 78:353–357, 2006. © 2006 Wiley-Liss, Inc.