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J Med Virol. 2001 Jul;64(3):312-9.

Hepatitis B virus markers in anti-HBc only positive individuals.

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Laboratoires RĂ©unis Kutter-Lieners-Hastert, Junglinster, Luxembourg.


Isolated reactivity to hepatitis B virus (HBV) core antigen (anti-HBc) is observed relatively frequently in immunocompromised individuals, intravenous drug abusers (IVDA), and in the presence of HCV infection. The reason for the lack of HBsAg is not clear. The aim of the present study was to investigate which factors (genetic variability of S gene, low-level HBsAg, and immune complexes may be responsible for the failure of HBsAg detection with commercial HBsAg screening assays. Dilution series of two recombinant HBsAg escape mutants and dilutions of serum samples from chronic HBV carriers with multiple insertions in the a determinant and different HBsAg subtypes were tested with a highly sensitive assay that detects wild-type HBsAg (Elecsys HBsAg, Roche Diagnostics, Penzberg, Germany) and two assays that detect HBV wild-type and escape mutants (Murex HBsAg Version 3, Murex and Enzygnost HBsAg 5.0, Dade Behring, Marburg, Germany). Elecsys HBsAg showed in comparison to Murex HBsAg Version 3 and Enzygnost HBsAg 5.0 a reduced sensitivity for escape mutant detection. On the other hand, the best performance for HBsAg subtype detection was obtained with Elecsys HBsAg. In the second part of the study, a selected panel of isolated anti-HBc reactive (n = 104) serum samples (AxSYM Core) was submitted to testing by Elecsys HBsAg, Murex HBsAg Version 3, Enzygnost HBsAg 5.0, and HBsAg detection after immune complex dissociation (ICD) and anti-HBs determination with two different assays (AxSYM Ausab and Elecsys Anti-HBs). To assess the specificity of anti-HBc test results, all the samples were tested by a second anti-HBc assay (Elecsys Anti-HBc). Quantitative HBV DNA detection was undertaken with a commercially available HBV PCR assay (Amplicor HBV Monitor). HCV infection was present in 65.4% of anti-HBc only reactive individuals. Five AxSYM Core positive samples were negative by Elecsys Anti-HBc. Overall, 15 (14.4%) AxSYM Ausab negative samples gave positive results with Elecsys Anti-HBs (median value: 21 IU/ml). No low-level HBsAg carrier was detected among the isolated anti-HBc reactive individuals with Elecsys HBsAg. There was no evidence for the presence of immune complexes. Only one sample was repeatedly reactive by the Murex HBsAg, suggesting that the a mutant form of HBsAg was responsible for the isolated anti-HBc reactivity, however neutralisation assay was not interpretable and HBV DNA PCR was negative. Fifteen (14.4%) anti-HBc only positive individuals were HBV DNA carriers with concentrations ranging from 800 to more than >4,000,000 copies of viral DNA/ml. In conclusion, the most probable explanations for isolated anti-HBc reactivity in our study group are a possible interference of HBsAg synthesis by HCV infection (65.4%) and divergence of results of anti-HBs assays (14.4%). There is no evidence for the presence of low-level HBsAg carriers and immune complexes. HBsAg mutants cannot be excluded definitively by the test strategy used in the present evaluation.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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