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Keywords:

  • hepatitis B virus;
  • hepatitis B virus e antigen-negative carrier;
  • hepatitis reactivation;
  • hepatocellular carcinoma;
  • normal alanine aminotransferase

Summary.  The association between viral level and the long-term outcomes of hepatitis B virus (HBV) carriers who test negative for hepatitis B virus e antigen (HBeAg) but have persistently normal serum alanine aminotransferase levels (PNALT) remains unclear. We examined hepatocarcinogenesis, hepatitis reactivation, predictive factors and the time course of HBV DNA levels during follow-up in 104 HBeAg-negative Japanese carriers with PNALT. During a mean follow-up period of 6.4 ± 3.4 years, 5 patients (4.8%) had hepatocarcinogenesis and 14 (13.5%) had hepatitis reactivation. At 5 and 10 years, the cumulative rates of hepatocarcinogenesis were 2.4% and 9.9%, while those of hepatitis activation were 13.7% and 15.5%, respectively. An HBV DNA level of ≥5 log10 copies/mL was the sole predictor of hepatocarcinogenesis with a univariate analysis. An HBV DNA level of ≥5 log10 copies/mL and an alanine aminotransferase (ALT) level of >20 to ≤40 IU/L were independent predictors of hepatitis reactivation in a Cox model. Because there was no association between hepatocarcinogenesis and ALT activity, the HBV DNA level was considered an essential predictor. In addition, the baseline HBV DNA level was related to the future level and was not subject to wide fluctuations. Our results showed that an HBV DNA level of ≥5 log10 copies/mL predicts subsequent hepatocarcinogenesis and hepatitis reactivation in HBeAg-negative carriers with PNALT. As the baseline HBV DNA level reflects the future level, appropriate clinical management according to the viral level is expected to decrease future risk.