Molecular and serological aspects of HBsAg-negative hepatitis B virus infections in North America.J Med Virol 2003; 70(1):20-6JM
A few hepatitis B virus (HBV) infections are characterized by the presence of HBV DNA in serum or liver tissue, or both, in the absence of detectable hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg) in serum. However, such infections have rarely been described previously in North American patients. In the present study, 31 hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) patients from the United States and Canada who had no detectable HBsAg in their serum were studied. In these 31 HBsAg-negative HCC patients, HBV DNA was detected in HCC and/or in adjacent nontumorous liver tissue using nested polymerase chain reaction (PCR) in 5/9 (56%) patients from the United States and in 12/22 (55%) from Canada. The 17 HBV DNA-positive/HBsAg-negative patients from the United States and Canada included 9 without any serological markers for HBV and 8 with detectable antibodies to hepatitis B core antigen. In these patients, HBV genotype C was the most prevalent genotype (11/17; 64%). HBV genotypes have not been previously reported in HCC patients from North America. Replicative intermediate forms of HBV (covalently closed circular HBV DNA) were detected in 2/17 (12%) HBV DNA-positive/HBsAg-negative patients, indicating that at least two of these patients had actively replicating HBV infections. The use of tests to detect HBV DNA permitted the identification of HBV infections in HBsAg-negative HCC patients from North America. Among these patients, those with antibody to hepatitis C virus (HCV) would otherwise have been designated "HCV-associated HCCs" based on serological tests alone. These findings provide a new perspective on determining the possible viral etiologies of HCCs in North America.