Background: The details of liver histology of patients with precore and core promoter mutations are still not clear.
Aim: To determine the role of precore and core promoter mutations in liver histology in Chinese patients with chronic hepatitis B.
Patients and methods: Intrahepatic hepatitis B virus DNA (by COBAS Amplicor hepatitis B virus Monitor test) and precore and core promoter mutations (by a line probe assay) were measured in 54 chronic hepatitis B patients. Expression of hepatitis B core antigen, hepatitis B e antigen and hepatitis B surface antigen was determined by immunohistological staining. Histological activity index was scored according to Knodell's criteria.
Results: Compared with patients without core promoter mutations, patients with core promoter mutations had more severe intrahepatic inflammation and fibrosis, and more cytoplasmic expression of hepatitis B core antigen (P = 0.028). No such differences were found in patients with and without precore mutations. Logistic regression showed that core promoter mutations were independently associated with cytoplasmic expression of hepatitis B core antigen (P = 0.026). Intrahepatic hepatitis B virus DNA levels correlated with serum hepatitis B virus DNA levels (r = 0.71, P < 0.001) and the percentage of hepatitis B core antigen-positive hepatocytes (r = 0.37, P = 0.047), but had no correlation with serum alanine aminotransferase levels nor the degree of inflammation and fibrosis.
Conclusions: Patients with core promoter mutations had more severe inflammation and fibrosis, and more frequent cytoplasmic expression of hepatitis B core antigen. This suggested that core promoter mutations might cause more serious liver disease.