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Liver Transpl. 2011 Aug;17(8):955-62. doi: 10.1002/lt.22312.

Hepatitis B virus quasispecies in hepatic and extrahepatic viral reservoirs in liver transplant recipients on prophylactic therapy.

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  • 1Liver Unit, Division of Gastroenterology, University of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta, Canada.


The characterization of hepatitis B virus (HBV) quasispecies in different compartments in liver transplant (LT) recipients may be helpful in optimizing prophylaxis regimens. The aims of this study were to evaluate liver, peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC), and plasma samples for HBV and to compare the quasispecies in hepatic and extrahepatic sites in LT recipients on long-term prophylaxis. For 12 patients followed for up to 15 years post-LT, liver, plasma, and PBMC samples [all HBV DNA-negative according to conventional polymerase chain reaction (PCR) assays] were evaluated for HBV DNA by a sensitive nested PCR method [covalently closed circular DNA (cccDNA) for liver and PBMC samples] and by the sequencing and phylogenetic analysis of polymerase quasispecies. For the 10 patients on prophylaxis with no clinical recurrence (median time post-LT = 15.5 months, range = 12-96 months), liver samples were HBV DNA-reactive in 9 of 10 cases, plasma samples were HBV DNA-reactive in 3 of 10 cases, and PBMC samples were HBV DNA-reactive in 2 of 7 cases (including 1 case with HBV cccDNA in PBMCs). The sequence analysis showed that all HBV clones had a wild-type (WT) sequence in the liver and PBMCs. In 2 patients with early HBV recurrence post-LT who were treated with nucleosides only, HBV DNA was detected in serum, PBMC, and liver samples, and HBV cccDNA was found in liver samples. An HBV lamivudine-resistant variant with an M204I mutation was identified in liver (70% and 18% of the clones) and plasma samples (100% of the clones), but a WT sequence was found in 70% and 100% of the PBMC clones. In conclusion, despite prophylaxis and the absence of HBV DNA in serum according to conventional assays, HBV is detectable in the serum, liver, and PBMCs of almost all patients, and this supports the use of continued anti-HBV therapy in this group. Antiviral drug-resistant variants are more frequent in the liver versus PBMCs, but both compartments are potential sources of reinfection.

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