Levels of Antibodies to Hepatitis B Core Antigen Are Associated With Liver Inflammation and Response to Peginterferon in Patients With Chronic Hepatitis B

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Abstract

Background. Emerging evidence suggests a pivotal role for B-cell responses in the natural history of chronic hepatitis B. Serum levels of antibodies to hepatitis B core antigen (anti-HBc) vary across infection stages, but their role in predicting response to antiviral therapy is uncertain. Methods. Anti-HBc levels were assessed before peginterferon (PEG-IFN) therapy in patients with chronic hepatitis B who either started de novo PEG-IFN (n = 299; 195 hepatitis B e antigen [HBeAg] positive) or started PEG-IFN as add-on to an existing nucleo(s)tide analogue backbone (n = 91; all HBeAg-positive). Associations were explored between anti-HBc and (1) serum biomarkers, (2) liver histological findings, and (3) treatment response. Results. We studied 390 patients. The hepatitis B virus (HBV) genotype were A, B, C, and D in 24%, 9%, 16%, and 49%, respectively; 72% of patients were Caucasian. Among currently untreated HBeAg-positive patients, anti-HBc was correlated with HBV DNA, hepatitis B core-related antigen (HBcrAg), hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg), and HBV RNA, but not with alanine aminotransferase (ALT). Higher anti-HBc was associated with more severe histological inflammatory activity (P , .001), irrespective of HBeAg status. After de novo PEG-IFN, higher anti-HBc levels were associated with HBeAg loss, sustained response, HBsAg decline, and HBsAg clearance (P, .050). Among patients treated with add-on PEG-IFN, higher anti-HBc was associated with HBeAg loss (P = .01). Conclusions. Serum anti-HBc levels correlate with histological inflammatory activity. Higher anti-HBc levels were associated with favorable treatment outcomes. These findings suggest that anti-HBc could be used to select patients most likely to respond to immunomodulatory therapy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)113-122
Number of pages10
JournalThe Journal of infectious diseases
Volume227
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study was sponsored by the Foundation for Liver and Gastrointestinal Research, Rotterdam, the Netherlands. Anti-HBc test kits were provided free of charge by Fujirebio. Funding to pay the Open Access publication charges for this article was provided by the Erasmus University.

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2022. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of Infectious Diseases Society of America.

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