Background/Aims: As the core gene of hepatitis B virus (HBV) is a major immunological target, its mutation may evoke or evade immune clearance. We investigated the frequency and location of HBV core gene substitutions according to hepatitis B e antigen (HBeAg) status and viral replication status, and evaluated the association of these substitutions with the different stages of chronic HBV infection in Korean patients.
Methods: The study population included 45 HBeAg-positive/DNA-positive patients (group I), 49 HBeAg-negative/DNA-positive patients (II) and 50 HBeAg-negative/DNA-negative patients (III). The HBV core gene was analysed by polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and sequencing.
Results: The frequency of core gene substitutions increased from group I to group III. Substitutions were commonly detected at codons 87, 97, 112 and 130. The frequency of substitutions at codons 87 and 112 was higher in groups II/III than in group I. The frequency of the codon I97F substitutions was the highest in group III. However, the codon 130 substitution was more frequently found in groups I/II than in group III.
Conclusion: Core gene substitutions were more frequently detected in HBeAg-negative and/or HBV DNA-negative patients. The substitutional hot spots were codons 87, 97, 112 and 130; substitutions at these codons might play a role in immune-modulation during the course of chronic HBV infection.