• hepatitis B e antigen;
  • hepatitis B virus;
  • precore;
  • polymerase chain reaction.


One point mutation to make a stop codon in the precore (pre-C) region of the hepatitis B virus DNA in anti-HBe-positive patients has been reported recently. This mutation disturbs the formation of the pre-C protein that is processed to make HBeAg. The relationship between the point mutation and HBe antigen antibody status was investigated in B-viral liver diseases. The pre-C region was amplified by a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) method and the nucleotide sequences were determined by a direct sequencing method. In seven cases who were persistently HBeAg-positive, the wild type (no mutation in pre-C region) was detected in all. In 20 cases who were anti-HBeAg-positive at diagnosis, the mutant type (point mutation at nucleotide 1896 in pre-C region, which makes a stop codon) was detected in 16 cases and the wild type in two cases. In HBe seroconversion (SC) cases, the types of virus were investigated in serial blood samples. No mutant type was detected in initial sera during the HBeAg-positive period. In two ‘natural’ SC cases, the mutant type appeared before anti-HBe formation. However, in three anti-viral ‘drug-induced’ SC cases, the mutant type appeared after the formation of anti-HBe. In two ‘reversed’ seroconversion cases only the wild type was detected throughout the follow-up period. These data suggest that the appearance of a pre-C mutant may help to predict seroconversion from HBeAg to anti-HBe and may help distinguish ‘natural’ and ‘drug-induced’ seroconversion of HBeAg.