Southwestern Internal Medicine Conference: Hepatitis B - Molecular variants with clinical significance?

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Mutations in the DNA of the hepatitis B virus have been discovered and they may have clinical significance. A single nucleotide substitution resulting in a premature stop codon in the pre-core region of the hepatitis B genome is the most common change. The premature stop codon prevents the synthesis of hepatitis B e antigen (HBeAg), a virally encoded protein normally secreted by hepatocytes. The mutant hepatitis B virus was initially discovered in patients who lacked HBeAg in the serum yet had high levels of hepatitis B viral DNA, a marker of active viral replication usually found in association with the continued presence of HBeAg. Other studies demonstrated that the mutant forms were observed with increasing frequency during the successful conversion from HBeAg positivity to anti-hepatitis B e antibody (anti-HBe) positivity. The mutant form of hepatitis B virus was not identified in patients with stable chronic hepatitis B who were positive for HBeAg or in any patients with uncomplicated acute hepatitis B, regardless of the presence of HBeAg or anti-HBe. However, mutant hepatitis B virus was detected in patients with fulminant hepatitis B who lacked both HBeAg and anti-HBe. The lack of HBeAg in the serum therefore may result in a more severe form of acute disease. Together with experimental animal studies of the normal role of HBeAg, these data suggest that serum HBeAg may be associated with immunologic tolerance, whereas clearance of or lack of HBeAg may be associated with an active immunologic response. Future studies are expected to clarify the role of mutant forms of hepatitis B virus in the natural history of hepatitis B infection.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)396-403
Number of pages8
JournalAmerican Journal of the Medical Sciences
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jan 1 1991


  • Hepatitis B
  • Mutant Hepatitis B virus

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)


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