Significance of IgM antibody to hepatitis B core antigen in a Greek population with chronic hepatitis B virus infection


National Center for Viral Hepatitis Athens School of Hygiene P.O. Box 14085 Athens 11521 Greece


ABSTRACT— IgM antibody to hepatitis B core antigen (IgM anti-HBc) may indicate an active immune response to persistent infection with hepatitis B virus (HBV). We studied 186 Greek HBsAg carriers for IgM anti-HBc and attempted to correlate it with other HBV and hepatitis delta virus (HDV) markers. Overall, IgM anti-HBc was detected more frequently than HBV DNA in this population (50% vs 34, p<0.001); this was also true for the 149 of the 186 HBsAg carriers with antibody to hepatitis B e antigen (anti-HBe) (48% vs 22%, p<0.001). The opposite was found in the carriers positive for hepatitis B e antigen (HBeAg): HBV DNA was observed in 93% and IgM anti-HBc in 64% of the cases (p<0.05). The detection of these markers was independent of sex. Serum alanine aminotransferase (ALT) levels were significantly more elevated in patients with positive tests for IgM anti-HBc and HBV DNA than in patients positive only for HBV DNA (p<0.001) irrespective of their HBeAg or anti-HBe status. Moreover, the detection of elevated ALT was independent of the intensity of the HBV DNA hybridization signal. Antibodies to hepatitis delta antigen (HDAg) were only found in 4 (2.4%) of 167 patients tested.