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J Med Virol. 1995 Dec;47(4):336-41.

Selection of a precore mutant after vertical transmission of different hepatitis B virus variants is correlated with fulminant hepatitis in infants.

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  • 1Children's Hospital of the Johannes Gutenberg University, Mainz, Germany.


The incidence of perinatal transmission of hepatitis B virus (HBV) depends on the HBeAg/anti-HBe status of the mother. While children of HBeAg-positive mothers have a 90% probability of acquiring a chronic hepatitis B virus carrier state, babies of anti-HBe-positive mothers are more likely to develop fulminant hepatitis within the first 3 to 4 months of life. There is evidence that precore (pre-C) mutations of the HBV can be associated with fulminant hepatitis. The pre-C region was therefore examined in sera from nine infants with fulminant hepatitis after vertical transmission, one HBeAg-positive and seven anti-HBe-positive mothers by polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and direct sequence analysis. In five mother/infant pairs the virus populations were characterized in addition by analysing clones of the amplified products. All mothers were infected with two or four variants of HBV with mutations at different positions of the preC genome including position 1896, which results in a stop codon. While the precore stop codon was detected in a portion of the virus populations of the HBeAg-positive and of four anti-HBe-positive mothers the dominating viral strain was represented by the wild type virus in three. In contrast, the virus populations of all babies showed the 1896 precore variant as the prevalent virus strain during the phase of active disease. In the surviving baby only wild type sequences were detected after recovery. Subtype ayw was found in all mothers and infants and adw2 was present in three mothers and in the surviving child. The findings suggest that all mothers carried a wild type HBV population with a certain number of different HBV variants. After transmission of the mixed virus population a selection process was started in the baby. The association of subtype ayw with the precore mutations and with the fatal outcome of the hepatitis B might be the result of a directed selection of this variant with a particular advantage in the viral life cycle.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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