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Profiles of HBcrAg and pgRNA in Pregnant Women With Chronic HBV Under Different Disease Phases and Antiviral Prophylaxis.

BACKGROUND: Pregnant women with chronic hepatitis B (CHB) exhibit unique clinical features in terms of postpartum immune system reconstitution and recovery from pregnancy-related changes. However, current studies focus primarily on the outcomes of maternal-infant transmission and postpartum hepatitis flares. We aimed to evaluate the profiles of hepatitis B core-related antigen (HBcrAg) and pregenomic RNA (pgRNA) in pregnant women with CHB.

METHODS: This retrospective analysis included treatment-naïve pregnant women with CHB who were followed up regularly in an outpatient clinic from 2014 to 2021. Baseline HBcrAg and pgRNA levels were compared in patients with different disease phases. Changes in these parameters were examined in a subset of patients receiving antiviral prophylaxis. HBcrAg and pgRNA levels were measured before treatment, at 32 weeks of gestation, and postpartum.

RESULTS: The final analysis included a total of 121 patients, 100 of whom were hepatitis B e antigen (HBeAg)-positive (96 and 4 in the immune-tolerant and -indeterminate phases, respectively) and 21 of whom were HBeAg-negative (6 and 15 in the immune-active and -inactive carrier phases, respectively). The HBeAg-negative group vs the HBeAg-positive group had lower levels of baseline HBcrAg (median [interquartile range {IQR}], 3.7 [3.0-5.9] vs 8.6 [8.4-8.7] log10 U/mL; P < .01) and pgRNA (median [IQR], 0.0 [0.0-2.5] vs 7.8 [7.6-8.1] log10 copies/mL; P < .01). The serum levels of HBcrAg and pgRNA were highest in immune-tolerant carriers and lowest in immune-inactive carriers. In HBeAg-positive patients, the correlation coefficients of HBcrAg and pgRNA with hepatitis B virus (HBV) DNA were 0.40 and 0.43, respectively; in HBeAg-negative patients, they were 0.53 and 0.51, respectively (all P < .05). The correlation coefficients with hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg) were 0.55 and 0.52 ( P < .05) in HBeAg-positive patients, respectively, while in HBeAg-negative patients they were 0.42 and 0.37, respectively ( P > .05). Among 96 patients receiving antiviral prophylaxis, we detected a rapid decrease in HBV DNA to an undetectable level during treatment but relatively stable levels of pgRNA and HBcrAg.

CONCLUSIONS: HBcrAg and pgRNA levels are lower in HBeAg-negative patients than in HBeAg-positive patients. These 2 markers are significantly associated with HBV DNA irrespective of HBeAg status, while they are significantly associated with HBsAg only in HBeAg-positive patients.

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