Treatment of HBeAg positive chronic hepatitis B: interferon or nucleoside analogues


  • Geoffrey Dusheiko

    Corresponding author
    • UCL Division of Liver and Digestive Health, University College London Medical School, and Royal Free Hospital, London, UK
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Geoffrey Dusheiko, UCL Institute of Liver and Digestive Health, Royal Free Hospital, London, NW3 2QG, UK

Tel: +44 207 433 2885

Fax: +44 207 433 2884



Interferon alpha has restricted efficacy in as much as only a proportion of patients show a response. However, in appropriately selected HBeAg-positive and HBeAg-negative patients, sustained suppression of viral replication can be achieved, and HBeAg or even HBsAg seroconversion can be attained. Thus, finite course of interferon alpha can be successful, and offer an advantage to patient. Interferon (IFN) remains a benchmark therapy for chronic hepatitis B. The main advantages of IFN-α over nucleoside analogues are the absence of resistance and the possibility of immune-mediated clearance of hepatitis B. Unfortunately, side effects preclude the use of interferon alpha in substantial proportions of patients, and prolonged maintenance therapy to suppress hepatitis B virus (HBV) is not feasible. Nucleoside analogues are given by mouth, once per day, and the safety, potency and efficacy have improved and facilitated treatment. However, maintenance of long-term suppression is required for the majority of patients. In general, treatment of chronic hepatitis B should target patients with active disease and viral replication, preferably before the signs and symptoms of cirrhosis or significant injury has occurred. Current EASL guidelines suggest that treatment be based on the evaluation of three criteria: Serum aminotransferase levels, serum HBV DNA levels and histological grade and stage. Many questions remain unanswered on the optimal treatment of patients with chronic hepatitis B with a nucleoside vs interferon alpha. Both forms of treatment have benefits and the choice should be selected and tailored. Stopping or futility rules can be implemented in patients who fail interferon. Recent data suggest the safety and efficacy of nucleoside analogues in the third trimester of pregnancy to reduce the risk of transmission from mothers to their children.