The diagnostic and prognostic value of pre-S(1)Ag and pre-S(2)Ab was investigated in 69 HBsAg surface antigen positive patients--14 with acute hepatitis B, 30 with chronic liver disease (six chronic persistent hepatitis, 14 chronic active hepatitis, 10 with cirrhosis) and in 25 asymptomatic carriers. Pre-S(1)Ag was found in all patients with chronic hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection regardless of viral replication. In contrast, pre-S(2)Ab was not detected in any patients. Acute hepatitis was studied sequentially with periodic controls at 20 day intervals. Pre-S(1)Ag cleared before HBsAg in six of 14 (43%) patients who progressed favourably, and the two antigens cleared simultaneously in eight of 14 (57%) cases. Patients with early clearance of pre-S(1)Ag progressed favourably, thus indicating the prognostic value of this test, which, however, is still of limited practical application given the small temporal difference between the moment of clearance of the two antigens. The first markers to clear, however, were HBeAg and DNA-HBV, which showed significant differences with respect to the clearance of HBsAg. Moreover, pre-S(2)Ab appeared before HBsAb in 57.1% of our patients and was found in some patients before pre-S(1)Ag and HBsAg had cleared (42.8%), thus allowing complete viral clearance and acute HBV infection to be predicted earlier.
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