• genotype;
  • hepatitis B virus;
  • recombination

Summary.  Genetic diversity within the same hepatitis B virus (HBV) genotype indicates the presence of several subgenotypes. We have found that genotype C is the most common in China, and this study aimed to determine the geographical distribution and characteristics of HBV-C subgenotypes in the country. A cohort of 534 patients with chronic HBV genotype C infection, collected across China, was analysed by nucleotide sequencing or polymerase chain reaction-restriction fragment length polymorphism. HBV-C1/Cs (n = 112, 21%) and HBV-C2/Ce (n = 397, 74%) were the most common HBV-C subgenotypes and showed different geographical distribution in China. No significant differences were found between patients infected with HBV-C1 and HBV-C2 when comparing liver function tests, hepatitis B e antigen positive rate and clinical manifestations. We identified two other types of HBV-C provisionally designated as HBV-CD1 and HBV-CD2, which have particular virological features and clustered in one geographic area. These two types of C/D hybrids have emerged through recombination with genotype D and encode serotype ayw2 hepatitis B surface antigen. In conclusion, there are at least four subtypes of HBV genotype C: subgenotypes C1, C2 and two types of C/D recombinants CD1 and CD2 in China, which have a distinct geographic distribution. Whether HBV-C subgenotypes differ in their impact on liver disease progression requires prospective studies.