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PAGES: 485-491 DOI: 10.1590/0074-02760160477 Full paper
Detection and molecular characterisation of a diagnosis escape variant associated with occult hepatitis B virus in Brazil

Ricardo Wagner de Almeida+, Francisco Campello do Amaral Mello, Isabelle Vasconcelos Menegoy, Márcia Paschoal do Espírito Santo, Cléber Ferreira Ginuíno, Paulo Sérgio Fonseca de Sousa, Livia Melo Villar, Elisabeth Lampe, Lia Laura Lewis-Ximenez

Fundação Oswaldo Cruz-Fiocruz, Instituto Oswaldo Cruz, Laboratório de Hepatites Virais, Rio de Janeiro, RJ, Brasil


BACKGROUND Many studies have identified mutations in the hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg) as important factors limiting the ability of commercial serological assays to detect this viral antigen. However, an association between mutations in the HBsAg gene and the occurrence of occult HBV infection (OBI) in patients has not been established.

OBJECTIVES To detect hepatitis B virus (HBV) DNA in patients with anti-HBc as a unique serological marker, a previously published, cost-effective TaqMan-based real-time polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test with minor groove binding probes was adapted for use in this study. The current study also aimed to investigate HBsAg mutations and genotypes of HBV in OBI at the Viral Hepatitis Ambulatory Clinic in Rio de Janeiro to determine any possible association.

METHODS Intra-assay and inter-assay reproducibility were determined, and the mean coefficient of variation values obtained were 2.07 and 3.5, respectively. Probit analysis indicated that the 95% detection level was 25 IU/mL. The prevalence of OBI was investigated in 35 serum samples with an ‘anti-HBc alone’ profile from individuals who attended our clinic between 2011 and 2013.

FINDINGS HBV DNA was detected in only one sample, resulting in an OBI rate of 2.9%. Nucleotide sequencing of the pre-S/S region was performed to genotype and analyse mutations within the HBsAg gene of this HBV DNA. The HBV in the OBI case was classified as sub-genotype A1, and a sequence analysis of the small S gene revealed 12 mutations in the major hydrophilic region compared to the consensus A1 sequence. Most of these mutations occurred in amino acid residues that have been reported as clinically relevant because they have been implicated in vaccine escape and/or inability to detect HBsAg by commercial serological assays.

MAIN CONCLUSIONS Our study suggests the importance of specific HBsAg mutations, different from those in D, B, and C genotypes, in sub-genotype A1 HBV associated with OBI.

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Received 31 October 2016
Accepted 21 March 2017