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Occult hepatitis B viral DNA in liver carcinomas from a region with a low prevalence of chronic hepatitis B infection


Michael Torbenson MD, Department of Pathology, Room B314, 1503 E. Jefferson (Bond Street Building), The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD 21231, USA.


Summary.  Occult hepatitis B is defined by the presence of hepatitis B viral (HBV) DNA in the serum or liver in persons lacking hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg) in the serum. A high prevalence of occult HBV has been reported in hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) from Asia, but little information is available on the prevalence of occult HBV in HCC from regions with a low prevalence of typical chronic hepatitis B infection. In a retrospective study, 19 cases of primary liver cancer were investigated for the presence of occult HBV DNA by amplification of the surface, core, and X gene. In addition, HBV copy numbers were quantitated by real time polymerase chain reaction, genotyped, and samples tested for covalently closed circular HBV DNA, which is a marker of active viral replication. Occult HBV was found in three of 19 cases (16%). Genotyping was successful in two cases, both of which were genotype A. HBV DNA copy numbers were low, all less than 10 copies/μg liver DNA. No closed circular HBV DNA was detected. Thus, in this study occult HBV was of genotype A and was found in a low percentage of cases of HCC and was associated with low tissue HBV DNA copy numbers and no detectable evidence for viral replication.