Radioimmunoassay in the detection of the hepatitis B e antigen/antibody system in asymptomatic carriers of hepatitis B surface antigen. Correlation with serum Dane particle associated DNA polymerase activity.


A radioimmunoassay for hepatitis e antigen (HBeAg) and antibody to e (anti-HBe) was developed and sera of 71 asymptomatic chronic carriers of hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg), in 44 of whom liver biopsy was obtained, were tested. In addition, testing for Dane particle associated DNA polymerase activity was performed in all sera. HBeAg was detected in 14 subjects (19.7%) and anti-HBe in 46 (64.8%). The highest proportion of HBeAg positivity (40%) was found among carriers with histological evidence of chronic hepatitis, whereas anti-HBe was present in 80% of carriers with normal liver histology, in 58% of carriers with non-specific reactive hepatitis and in 60% of carriers with chronic liver lesions. DNA polymerase activity was present in 92.8% of sera positive for HBeAg, in 13% of sera positive for anti-HBe, and in 9% of sera negative for both markers. Our results demonstrate that not all HBsAg carriers reactive to HBeAg show evidence of chronic hepatitis nor, conversely, that anti-HBe is invariably associated with the healthy carrier state of HBsAg. Finally, circulating Dane particles, as revealed by the presence of serum specific DNA polymerase activity, may also be present in anti-HBe positive sera other than those of some HBsAg carriers lacking both HBeAg and anti-HBe.




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