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J Clin Invest. 1993 Jun;91(6):2586-95.

The serology of chronic hepatitis B infection revisited.

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Department of Molecular Biology, Scripps Research Institute, La Jolla, California 92037.


The serology of chronic hepatitis B infection has been established through the use of commercial immunoassays to measure the structural antigens of the hepatitis B virus and their respective antibodies in serum. However, the commercial assays have not been designed to detect serum antibodies in the presence of an excess of circulating antigens. A series of serum samples from 200 HBeAg-positive, chronically infected hepatitis B patients with varying degrees of liver disease were analyzed using novel immunoassays designed to detect antibodies in the presence of circulating viral antigens. All patients, regardless of their liver disease, were seronegative for antibodies specific for the envelope antigens or the secreted nucleoprotein antigen (HBeAg) when the commercial assays were used. In contrast, virtually all chronically infected patients with liver disease and approximately 50% of patients without liver disease demonstrated anti-HBe and anti-envelope antibodies when sera were tested in the more sensitive immunoassays. Furthermore, asymptomatic patients could be serologically distinguished from symptomatic patients based on antibody fine specificity, titer, and IgG subclass. This study revealed that the majority of chronically infected hepatitis B patients produce a variety of antibodies for many years, and are not immunologically unresponsive, as suggested by the current assays.

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