AIMS--To study the geographical variation of the prevalence of hepatitis B virus (HBV) DNA in hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg) negative subjects. METHODS--A nested polymerase chain reaction (PCR) assay was used to amplify the core region of HBV. The assay was able to detect 10 molecules of a full length HBV plasmid. RESULTS--When applied to HBsAg negative paraffin wax embedded liver samples from Italy, Hong Kong, and the United Kingdom, a geographical variation in the prevalence of HBV-DNA positivity was noted. Two of 18 (11%) of Italian samples and 2/29 (6.9%) of Hong Kong samples were positive for HBV-DNA while none of the 70 cases from the United Kingdom was positive by nested PCR. Contamination by plasmid DNA was excluded using a novel method based on heteroduplex formation. One HBV-DNA positive case had idiopathic chronic active hepatitis, but the diagnoses in the other three HBV-DNA positive cases did not suggest any aetiological connection between HBV-DNA positivity and liver pathology. CONCLUSIONS--HBV-DNA could be detected in the liver tissues of a proportion of HBsAg negative subjects. The prevalence of such cases is related to the endemic rate of a geographical region. The use of HBV PCR on paraffin wax embedded tissues will be valuable for future studies on the molecular epidemiology of HBV.
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