Complete virions of hepatitis B virus (HBV) contain a DNA genome that is enclosed in a capsid composed of the HBV core antigen (HBcAg), which is in turn surrounded by a lipid envelope studded with viral surface antigens (HBsAg). In addition, HBV-infected cells release subviral particles composed of HBsAg only (HBsAg 'spheres' and 'filaments') or HBsAg enveloping HBcAg but devoid of viral DNA ('empty virions'). The hepatitis B e antigen (HBeAg), a soluble antigen related to HBcAg, is also secreted in some HBV-infected patients. The goals of this study were to explore the levels of empty virions in HBV-infected patients before and during therapy with the nucleotide analog tenofovir disoproxil fumarate (TDF) that inhibits HBV DNA synthesis and the relationships of empty virions to complete virions, HBsAg and HBeAg. HBV DNA, HBcAg and HBsAg levels were determined in serum samples from 21 patients chronically infected with HBV and enrolled in clinical TDF studies. Serum levels of empty virions were found to exceed levels of DNA-containing virions, often by ≥100-fold. Levels of both empty and complete virions varied and were related to the HBeAg status. When HBV DNA replication was suppressed by TDF, empty virion levels remained unchanged in most but were decreased (to the limit of detection) in some patients who also experienced significant decrease or loss of serum HBsAg. In conclusion, empty virions are present in the serum of chronic hepatitis B patients at high levels and may be useful in monitoring response to antiviral therapy.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Infectious Diseases