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J Clin Microbiol. 2007 Sep;45(9):2971-8. Epub 2007 Jul 3.

The amino Acid residues at positions 120 to 123 are crucial for the antigenicity of hepatitis B surface antigen.

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Division of Clinical Immunology, Tongji Hospital, Tongji Medical College, Huazhong University of Science and Technology, Wuhan, People's Republic of China.


The major hydrophilic region (MHR) of hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg) harbors conformational B-cell epitopes and is the major target of neutralizing antibodies to HBsAg (anti-HBs). Mutant HBsAg (mtHBsAg) with amino acid substitutions such as G145R is known to affect the binding of specific anti-HB antibodies and their detection by conventional diagnostic assays. In the present study, we focused on the role of the amino acid positions 120 to 123, which are around MHR 2 according to the spectrum of recently identified, naturally occurring mtHBsAg. Strikingly, the amino acid substitution K122I abolished the reactivity of HBsAg in all immunoassays tested so far. Also, mtHBsAg G145R could be clearly detected with four different enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays that were based on monoclonal anti-HB antibodies (MAbs) with high affinity. Positive immunofluorescence staining of mtHBsAg K122I was achieved only by polyclonal anti-HBs, while all MAbs tested failed. mtHBsAg T123N showed a low reactivity in immunoassays and appeared to be secretion defective. The amino acid substitution P120T reduced the binding of anti-HBs but did not completely prevent the detection of mtHBsAg by anti-HB MAbs. The testing of naturally occurring mtHBsAg confirmed that the presence of amino acid substitutions within the region of 120 to 123 is strongly associated with impaired detection in immunoassays. In conclusion, MHR 2 is essential for HBsAg antigenicity, a fact that has not been recognized before.

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