Hepatitis B virus replication and clinical outcome in carriers of HBsAg. Perspectives of treatment with DNA inhibitors


Ferruccio Bonino Dept. of Gastroenterology Ospedale Molinette Corso Bramante 88 Torino 10126 Italy


ABSTRACT— HBV-DNA was measured by the spot hybridization technique in serial serum samples obtained from 47 HBsAg carriers followed up for a mean of 4 years. The levels of HBV-DNA were compared to the conventional HBV serology and immunopathology to determine the relation of active HBV replication to the outcome of hepatitis and the suitability of Italian HBsAg carriers for treatment with DNA inhibitors. HBV-DNA was found in 26 carriers (53%) and persisted with comparable serum levels in 24 of them throughout the follow up. The occurrence rate of an unfavorable outcome as determined by histological evidence of cirrhosis was 6% versus 44% (p<0.01) in carriers with active viral infection (> 1 ng/ml of HBV-DNA) and in patients with absent or low levels of viral DNA (< 1 pg/ml), respectively. Progression of the liver disease could not be predicted on the basis of active HBV replication and was presumably related to factors other than synthesis of HBV. In many patients with inactive viral infection a primary pathogenic factor was the HBV-associated δ, an agent with a putative RNA genome against which DNA inhibitors have no rationale and possibly no effects. The majority of Italian carriers do not appear suitable for treatment with DNA inhibitors and they should be considered for a different therapy.