• anti-HBe;
  • chronic hepatitis;
  • HBV-DNA;
  • hepatitis B virus

ABSTRACT— HBV-DNA measured by the spot hybridization technique, was found in the sera of 28 of 106 (26.4%) anti-HBe positive carriers of HBsAg. Dane particle-associated HBeAg, HBcAg and HBV-specific DNA-polymerase activity were found in the sera of nine (8.5%), five (4.7%) and two (1.9%) of these patients, respectively. All carriers with serum HBV-DNA had chronic liver disease and 18 had intrahepatic δ-Ag and serum anti-δ at titers higher than 1/5000. Intrahepatic HBcAg was detected in the nuclei of 90% of delta negative individuals; 50% of them also had cytoplasmic fluorescence. Only two of the 18 patients with intrahepatic δ-Ag (11%) had HBcAg in the liver.

Viral nucleic acid was not found in the sera of 15 other patients with chronic hepatitis, seven of whom had intrahepatic δ-Ag. Serum HBV-DNA was also negative in the remaining 63 symptomless carriers of HBsAg lacking markers of delta infection.

Interestingly, although DNA-polymerase negative, some sera gave autoradiographic spots of high optical density. HBV-DNA was detected in them at concentrations typical of sera which are usually both DNA-polymerase and HBeAg positive. Detection of HBV-DNA in serum represents the most direct and sensitive in vitro assay for assessing HBV infectivity and characterizes HBsAg carriers with HBV-related liver damage and ongoing HBV replication independently from the state of HBeAg/anti-HBe system. In the Mediterranean area, the majority of anti-HBe positive carriers with serum HBV-DNA have chronic liver disease and delta infection.