The mechanisms for HBV persistence and the pathogenesis of chronic HB have been shown mainly due to defects in host immune responses. However, HBV isolates with different biological features may also contribute to different clinical outcomes and epidemiological implications in viral hepatitis B (HB). This review presents interesting biological features of HBV isolates based on the structural and functional analysis of full-length HBV isolates from various patients. Among isolates from children after failure of HB vaccination, 129L mutant at the ‘a’ determinant was found with normal binding efficiency to anti-HBs, but with reduced immunogenicity, which could initiate persistent HBV infections. Isolates from fulminant hepatitis (FH) B patients were not all highly replicative, but differences in capacities of anti-HBs induction could be involved in the pathogenesis of FH. The high replicative competency of isolates from hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) patients could result in enhanced immune-mediated cytopathic effects against HBV viral proteins, and increased transactivating activity by the X protein. The mechanism of a double-spliced variant in enhancing replication of the wild-type virus is presented. The importance of integrating structural and functional analysis to reveal biological features of HBV isolates in viral pathogenesis is discussed. Copyright © 2008 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.