Hepatitis B virus precore mutations and HBeAg negative reactivation of chronic hepatitis B after interferon therapy


Service d'Hépatologie and INSERM U24, Hôpital Beaujon, 92118 Clichy, France.


The objective of this study was to look for HBV precore mutations in three patients with chronic active hepatitis B who developed HBV-DNA-positive/HBeAg-negative reactivation after HBe seroconversion induced by interferon therapy. Direct sequencing of polymerase chain reaction products was performed on serum collected before and after HBe seroconversion. In two patients precore sequence showed only wild-type HBV before and after interferon therapy. In one patient, precore sequence showed only wild-type HBV before interferon therapy and a mixed infection by wild-type HBV and precore mutant viruses (1858 and 1896 nucleotide mutations) after treatment. The presence of HBeAg/anti-HBe immune complexes was found after HBe seroconversion in all cases. Our results suggest that: 1) precore mutations are not always found in patients with chronic hepatitis B who develop HBV DNA-positive/HBeAg-negative reactivation; and 2) HBeAg negativity, despite the presence of wild-type HBV, might be due to HBeAg/anti-HBe immune complexes. We speculate that the production of these immune complexes may be favored by interferon therapy.