AIMS: The visualisation of HBV DNA in liver sections of patients with chronic hepatitis B (CHB) in our previous report uncovered a mosaic distribution of viral antigens and nucleic acids. Here we aim to further explore the clinical utility of the in situ hybridisation (ISH) assay for HBV DNA.
METHOD: ISH of HBV DNA along with immunohistochemistry (IHC) of HBsAg, HBcAg and routine histopathology analysis was performed in 313 treatment-naive patients with CHB. Serum HBcrAg and HBcAb titre were also measured in addition to basic biochemical and virological parameters.
RESULTS: The ISH of HBV DNA, HBsAg and HBcAg showed 95.2%, 97.1% and 42.8% positive rate, respectively. The staining pattern of HBV DNA differs significantly with that of HBsAg. Intrahepatic HBV DNA exhibited high-level of correlations with viral load, HBcrAg and HBsAg titre. In HBeAg-negative patients, higher intrahepatic HBV DNA is associated with histological evidence of liver inflammation and fibrosis, whereas no such trend was observed in HBeAg-positive patients. Finally, a triple staining protocol that combined the detection of HBV DNA, HBsAg and collagen fibre was developed to enable better evaluation of viral replication and antigen expression in the context of disease progression.
CONCLUSIONS: The ISH assay for HBV DNA reflects the vigour of intrahepatic viral replication. It is complementary to the routine IHC assay for viral antigens and also related to the histopathological progression of liver diseases. The application of the HBV DNA ISH assay may help a better evaluation of virological and pathological condition of patients with CHB.