A 185 base pair fragment from the core-polymerase overlap region of the hepatitis B virus (HBV) genome was amplified using the polymerase chain reaction (PCR). The results were compared with those of Southern blotting on extracted DNA from eight hepatocellular carcinomata. The data agreed with those of Southern blotting in six cases (two positive, four negative) but in two other positive cases PCR failed to amplify HBV sequences. This suggests deletion or mutation, or both, of this viral region in these cases. PCR was also used to amplify HBV sequences from formalin fixed, paraffin wax embedded tissue. Tissue inhibition of PCR occurred which increased with the number of tissue sections. It was present in tissues from different organs and species and fixed by different procedures, thus highlighting the need for a positive control during amplification. Use of formalin fixed Alexander cells, however, showed a sensitivity of one viral copy per 5000 cells. Confirmation of the identity of the PCR products was carried out using PCR-generated biotinylated probes, and suggested the insertion of extra nucleotide sequences or infection with an HBV variant in one case.
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