Clin Microbiol Infect 2012; 18: E412–E418
Hepatitis B e-antigen (HBeAg)-negative chronic HBV infection is highly prevalent in several parts of the world, including India, with the clinical spectrum ranging from inactive carrier (IC) state to chronic ‘e-negative’ hepatitis B (CHB) and culminating in advanced liver disease such as cirrhosis (LC). The present study has for the first time investigated the natural diversity of HBV belonging to genotype D in treatment-naïve Indian patients representing the above phases of HBeAg-negative infection to identify candidate mutations associated with each disease state. Studies of full-length HBV/D sequences revealed that the progressive accumulation and persistence of mutations in basal core promoter, negative regulatory element, Pre-core region, the B- and T-cell epitopes of X protein as well as deletions in the PreS region contribute significantly to disease progression from IC through CHB to LC. In addition, the development of CHB was associated with a significant increase in viral variants characterized by mutations in enhancer II, preS1 promoter, T-cell epitope of core and B-cell epitope region of PreS1. While few of the mutations were previously reported in the context of HBV genotypes B and C, others had not been documented before. Our results thus highlight a distinct pattern of mutation in HBV/D that may help in predicting clinical outcomes of HBeAg-negative infection and have implications for better clinical management of the patients.