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Gastroenterology. 2010 Aug;139(2):483-90. doi: 10.1053/j.gastro.2010.04.052. Epub 2010 May 5.

Hepatitis B surface antigen serum levels help to distinguish active from inactive hepatitis B virus genotype D carriers.

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  • 1Hepatology Unit, University Hospital of Pisa, University of Pisa, Pisa, Italy.



The accurate identification of inactive (serum HBV-DNA persistently <or=2000 IU/mL) hepatitis B virus (HBV) carriers (IC) is difficult because of wide and frequent HBV-DNA fluctuations. We studied whether hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg) serum levels (HBsAgsl) quantification may contribute to diagnosis of HBV phases in untreated hepatitis B e antigen-negative genotype D asymptomatic carriers.


HBsAgsl were measured at baseline and end of follow-up and correlated with virologic and biochemical profiles of 209 consecutive carriers followed-up prospectively (median, 29; range, 12-110 months). HBV phases were defined after 1-year monthly monitoring of HBV-DNA and transaminases.


HBsAgsl were significantly lower in 56 inactive carriers (IC) than 153 active carriers (AC): median, 62.12 (range, 0.1-4068) vs median, 3029 (range, 0.5-82,480) IU/mL; P<.001. Among AC, HBsAgsl were lower in 31 AC whose viremia remained persistently <20,000 IU/mL (AC1) than in 122 AC with fluctuations>or=20,000 IU/mL (AC2): 883 (0.5-7838) vs 4233 (164-82,480) IU/mL, P=.002. HBV infection was less productive in IC and AC1 than AC2 (log10 HBV-DNA/HBsAgsl ratios 0.25 and 0.49 vs 2.06, respectively, P<.001) and in chronic hepatitis than cirrhosis (1.97 vs 2.34, respectively; P=.023). The combined single point quantification of HBsAg (<1000 IU/mL) and HBV-DNA (<or=2000 IU/mL) identified IC with 94.3% diagnostic accuracy, 91.1% sensitivity, 95.4% specificity, 87.9% positive predictive value, 96.7% negative predictive value. During follow-up, HBsAgsl were stable in AC but declined in IC (yearly median decline, -0.0120 vs -0.0768 log10 IU/mL, respectively, P<.001), 10 of whom cleared HBsAg.


HBsAgsl vary during chronic hepatitis B e antigen-negative genotype D infection and are significantly lower in IC. Single-point combined HBsAg and HBV-DNA quantification provides the most accurate identification of IC, comparable with that of long-term tight monitoring.

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