We examined nine chronic healthy hepatitis B surface antigen/antibody to hepatitis Be carriers with consistently normal liver chemistries and negative serum hepatitis B virus-DNA. Liver biopsy, performed twice, 10-11 years apart in all patients, showed normal histology and negative hepatitis B core antigen. DNA extracted from the second liver biopsy specimen, from 1 ml of serum from each patient and from an additional serum sample of 6 ml from two patients, was tested for pre-C/C and pre-S regions of hepatitis B virus-DNA by polymerase chain reaction amplification. Viral sequences were found in six of nine liver DNA extracts. In four cases both pre-C/C and pre-S regions were amplified, while the pre-C/C alone and the pre-S alone were detected in one case each. Direct sequencing of the amplified DNAs revealed no significant genomic changes in the pre-S and Core regions, while analysis of the pre-Core demonstrated the presence of a double viral population (wild-type and "e-defective") in four cases, and only "e-defective" hepatitis B virus in one case. No hepatitis B virus genomes were revealed in the serum sample when DNA was extracted from 1 ml of serum, while viral sequences were detected in both extracts of 6 ml of serum, indicating the presence of very low levels of viremia. These data suggest that episomal hepatitis B virus-DNA may persist for years in the liver of chronic healthy carriers in a latent state which may involve both wild-type and HBeAg-defective hepatitis B virus.
- Direct sequencing
- Hepatitis B viremia
- Hepatitis B virus episomal forms
- Hepatitis B virus-DNA
- Polymerase chain reaction amplification
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