Background & Aims It was recently reported that two point mutations within the hepatitis B virus (HBV) core promoter region (A to T at position 1762 and G to A at position 1764) are associated with fulminant hepatitis and lead to hepatitis B e antigen (HBeAg)-negative phenotype. The aim of this study was to correlate core promoter sequence variations with HBeAg status and clinical outcome in various forms of HBV infection. Methods Core promoter region of HBV was amplified by polymerase chain reaction and directly sequenced in 94 patients: 37 patients with fulminant hepatitis, 20 with acute self-limited hepatitis, 30 with chronic hepatitis, and 7 patients with end-stage cirrhosis. Results Core promoter region was found to be heterogenous and no specific changes correlated with HBeAg/anti-HBeAg status or survival in patients with fulminant hepatitis. Substitutions at positions 1762 and 1764 were found in HBV strains from 4 patients (10%) with fulminant hepatitis, 2 patients (10%) with self-limited hepatitis, 8 patients (27%) with chronic hepatitis, and in 5 of 7 patients with end-stage cirrhosis. The majority of these patients were HBeAg positive. Conclusions Mutations at positions 1762 and 1764 are rarely observed in HBV strains from patients with fulminant hepatitis B in the United States but are common in patients with chronic hepatitis. Even when present, they seem to be insufficient to lead to the HBeAg-negative phenotype.
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