The role of hepatitis B core-related antigen (HBcrAg) level in defining clinical phase and predicting prognosis of chronic hepatitis B (CHB) has not been fully studied. CHB patients who had undergone liver biopsy in Korea University Medical Center were included. Patients with liver cirrhosis were excluded. The associations of HBcrAg level with CHB phase, and nucleos(t)ide analogue (NA)-induced hepatitis B e antigen (HBeAg) seroconversion were analyzed. In total, 387 patients (median follow-up of 82.4 months) were included. The CHB phases of patients were defined histologically as immune-tolerant (IT, n = 32, 8.3%), HBeAg-positive and immune-active (PIA, n = 211, 54.5%), HBeAg-negative and immune-active (n = 125, 32.3%), and inactive (n = 19, 4.9%), respectively. In HBeAg-positive patients, the mean HBV DNA levels were comparable between the two groups (p = 0.990). However, the mean HBsAg (7.4 log IU/mL and 6.9 log IU/mL, p = 0.002) and HBcrAg levels (8.2 log U/mL vs. 7.6 log U/mL, p < 0.001) of IT patients were significantly higher than that of PIA patients. In multivariate analysis, younger age (odds ratio [OR] 0.949, p = 0.025), lower alanine aminotransferase (OR 0.988, p = 0.002) and higher HBcrAg level (OR = 2.745 p = 0.022) were independent predictors of the IT phase. Of the patients in the PIA phase, 194 received NA after liver biopsy, and 61 (31.4%) had achieved HBeAg seroconversion after antiviral therapy. In Cox regression analysis, the higher HBcrAg level was the only independent predictor of the NA-induced HBeAg seroconversion (hazard ratio 1.285, p = 0.028). The HBcrAg level is useful for predicting clinical phase of CHB and NA-induced HBeAg seroconversion in HBeAg-positive patients.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
Funding: This research was funded by the Basic Science Program through the National Research Foundation of Korea (NRF) NRF-2019R1F1A1058619.
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