Objective: To investigate the correlation of serum hepatitis B e antigen (HBeAg) levels with the presence of core promoter (CP) mutations, hepatitis B virus (HBV) viremia and the response to interferon (IFN) in patients with chronic hepatitis B. Methods: Fourteen HBeAg-positive patients received α-2a IFN. Diluted serum samples of responders were tested for HBeAg positivity at dilutions of 1:40, 1:160 and 1:640 at the following time points: T0 (before starting IFN), T1 [at peak alanine aminotransferase (ALT) preceding HBeAg seroconversion], T2 (at ALT normalisation) and T3 (end of treatment). Nonresponder samples were similarly tested at times T0 and T3. The HBV CP and precore regions were sequenced at the same time points as for HBeAg testing. Results: Six of 14 patients (43%) responded to IFN treatment and had lower HBeAg levels than nonresponders at T0 (p = 0.003). Five of 6 responders (83%) and none of the nonresponders had the A1762T/G1764A CP mutations (0/8, p < 0.003). At T0, HBeAg was negative at the 1:640 dilution in 5 of the 6 responders, who also had lower HBV DNA levels than nonresponders (p = 0.003). During IFN treatment, HBeAg levels decreased and HBV DNA became negative at T1 in responders. Conclusions: Low serum HBeAg and HBV DNA levels correlate with the presence of CP mutations and response to IFN treatment and can be considered as predictive markers of response to IFN.
- Chronic hepatitis B
- Core promoter mutations