Abstract: Background: The effect of pegylated interferon or its combination with lamivudine on liver histology of patients with chronic hepatitis B (CHB) is unknown. In a double-blinded, randomized, multi-center study we assessed histological changes in 110 hepatitis B e-antigen (HBeAg)-positive CHB patients treated for 52 weeks with Pegylated interferon α-2b (PEG-IFN) in combination with either lamivudine or placebo. Liver biopsies were taken before and at the end of treatment. All biopsies were blinded and scored according to the Ishak system.
Results: Necroinflammatory score improved (defined as a decrease of at least two points) in 25 patients (48%) of the PEG-IFN/lamivudine combination therapy group and in 31 patients (53%) of the PEG-IFN monotherapy group. The fibrosis score improved (decrease of at least 1 point) in 17 patients (33%) of the combination therapy group vs. 13 patients (22%) of the PEG-IFN monotherapy group (P=0.23). Responders (n=42), defined as serum HBeAg negative at the end of therapy, showed a larger decline in necroinflammatory score than non-responders (mean decline 2.3 and 1.2 points, respectively, P=0.02). Among patients receiving PEG-IFN monotherapy necroinflammation improved more frequently in responders (78% of responders vs. 43% of non-responders, P=0.01) and in patients who showed normalization of ALT (76% of patients with normal ALT vs. 40% of patients with abnormal ALT, P=0.01). Fibrosis score in the PEG-IFN monotherapy group improved more often in responders (39%) than in non-responders (15%, P=0.04). In the PEG-IFN/lamivudine combination therapy group, we found no significant association between virological and biochemical endpoints and histological improvement.
Conclusions: Treatment with PEG-IFN therapy improves liver necroinflammation in HBeAg-positive CHB patients, particularly in responders to therapy. PEG-IFN also improves fibrosis in responders. Addition of lamivudine to PEG-IFN did not further improve the histological outcome.