Long-term response to interferon therapy in chronic hepatitis B: importance of hepatitis B virus heterogeneity
The long-term therapeutic efficacy of αIFN and the influence of preC variants on the type of response were evaluated in 25 patients with chronic hepatitis B, 14 HBeAg and 11 antiHBe positive patients, treated with αIFN and monitored for at least four years after discontinuing therapy. In both groups of patients, serum HBV-DNA became frequently undetectable by DNA dot blot during treatment, suggesting that αIFN has an antiviral effect both on HBeAg and antiHBe positive chronic carriers. However, long term follow up showed that the loss of viral DNA in antiHBe carriers was only transient, because all responder patients relapsed from 1 to 48 months after IFN withdrawal. In the HBeAg positive carriers, selection for preC mutants was observed at the end of follow up in 2 patients who seroconverted to antiHBe and remained viremic. Both the frequent occurrence of reactivations in antiHBe compared to HBeAg carriers, and the association of IFN therapy with preC mutant virus selection during long term post-treatment follow up observed in this study, indicate that preC variants are more resistent to IFN therapy than preC wild type HBV. Our data suggest therefore, that IFN therapy may be less frequently able to induce a permanent remission in patients infected with preC mutants.
KeywordsChronic Hepatitis HBeAg Positive Patient preC Mutant Positive Carrier preC Stop Codon Mutation
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