Disease progression of chronic hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection is driven by the interactions between viral replication and the host immune response against the infection. This study aimed to clarify the relationship between HBV replication and hepatic inflammation during disease progression.

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Source: CDC/ Dr. Erskine Palmer

This transmission electron microscopic (TEM) image revealed the presence of hepatitis B virus (HBV) particles (orange). The round virions, which measure 42nm in diameter, are known as Dane particles.

Two cross-sectional, one validation cohort, and meta-analyses were used to explore the relationship between HBV replication and liver inflammation. Spearman analysis, multiple linear regression, and logistic regression were used to explore the relationship between variables.

The results

In the cross-sectional cohorts A and B including 1,350 chronic hepatitis B patients, Spearman analysis revealed a negative relationship between HBV replication (such as HBV DNA) and liver inflammation (such as ALT) in HBeAg-positive patients with higher HBV DNA >2×106 IU/mL (rho=−0.160 and −0.042) which turned to be positive in HBeAg-positive patients with HBV DNA ≤2×106 IU/mL (rho=0.278 and 0.260) and HBeAg-negative patients (rho=0.450 and 0.363).

After adjustment for sex, age, and anti-HBe, results from logistic regression and multiple linear regression showed the opposite relationship still existed in HBeAg-positive patients with different DNA levels; the opposite relationship in HBeAg-positive patients with different DNA levels was validated in a third cohort; the opposite relationship in patients with different HBeAg status was partially confirmed by meta-analysis (overall R: −0.004 vs 0.481).

These results suggested a negative relationship between viral replication and liver inflammation in HBeAg-positive patients with high HBV DNA, which changed to a positive relationship for those HBeAg-positive patients with DNA less than 2×106 IU/mL and HBeAg-negative patients.

 The study was recently published in the Journal of Clinical and Translational Hepatology.