Liver biopsies from 97 hepatitis B antigen (HBsAG)-positive patients were stained by a modified orcein method described by Shikata et al (1974) in order to detect the antigen in liver tissue. The results were consitently negative in acute hepatitis, but positive in nearly two-thirds of biopsies from 53 patients with chronic liver disease. The distribution of positive staining was frequently irregular so that there is a problem of sampling error in needle biopsies. The deposits were seen in the cytoplasm of liver cells and occasionally in Kupffer cells, but never in nuclei. There was an inverse relationship between staining and parenchymal necrosis. Biopsies from asymptomatic HB(s)Ag carriers were often strongly positive, as were "ground-glass" hepatocytes in carriers and patients with chronic liver disease. The mechanism of staining is unclear but may be related to the presence of disulphide bonds in (HBsAG. The technique is simple and of use both in fresh and stored material.
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