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Keywords:

  • core promoter;
  • genotype;
  • hepatitis B virus;
  • hepatocellular carcinoma;
  • mutation;
  • precore

Abstract

Advances in molecular biology technology in the last two decades have allowed detailed study of the viral mutations and genomic heterogeneity of hepatitis B virus (HBV). The first mutant discovered was precore stop codon mutation. It was reported in HBeAg-negative patients and initially thought to associate with fulminant hepatitis. Subsequent studies have suggested that it is merely one of the mechanisms of losing HBeAg by the virus. Another mutation that can downregulate the production of HBeAg is the basal core promoter mutation, which is located in the X gene upstream of the precore region. Based on the configuration of codon 15 and the stability of the epsilon of the precore region, these two mutants will be differentially selected during the course of HBeAg seroconversion. The most common HBV genotypes in South-East Asia are genotype B and C HBV. The higher hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) risk of genotype C HBV has been confirmed by longitudinal studies in Hong Kong and Taiwan. One possible carcinogenic mechanism is its association with basal core promoter mutation, which has also been found to be a risk factor of HCC. Within genotype C HBV, subgenotype Cs is predominant in South-East Asia and subgenotype Ce is predominant in East Asia. Subgenotype Ce HBV has been found to have the highest risk of HCC as compared with subgenotype Cs or genotype B HBV. The understanding of the carcinogenic mechanisms of these HBV strains may shed light into future therapeutics in the prevention and treatment of HBV-related HCC.