Defective hepatitis B virus DNA (dDNA) is reverse-transcribed from spliced hepatitis B virus (HBV) pregenomic messenger RNA (pgRNA) and has been identified in patients with chronic HBV (CH-B). The major 2.2-kb spliced pgRNA encodes a novel HBV gene product, the hepatitis B splice protein (HBSP) via a deletion and frame shift within the polymerase. Although spliced RNA and HBSP expression have been associated with increased HBV DNA levels and liver fibrosis, the role of dDNA in HBV-associated disease is largely undefined. Our aims were to (1) compare the relative proportions of dDNA (% dDNA) in a range of HBV-infected serum samples, including patients with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)/HBV coinfection and HBV-monoinfected persons with differing severities of liver disease, and (2) determine the effect of mutations associated with drug resistance on defective DNA production. Defective DNA was detected in 90% of persons with CH-B. There was no significant difference in the relative abundance of dDNA between the monoinfected and HIV/HBV-coinfected groups. We also found no association between the % dDNA and alanine aminotransferase, hepatitis B e antigen status, HBV DNA levels, fibrosis levels, compensated or decompensated liver cirrhosis, genotype, or drug treatment. However, the % dDNA was significantly lower in individuals infected with lamivudine-resistant (LMV-R) HBV compared with wild-type HBV (P < 0.0001), indicating that antiviral drug resistance alters the balance between defective and genomic length DNA in circulation Experiments in vitro using HBV encoding LMV-R mutations confirmed these results. Conclusion: Our results identified no association between dDNA and parameters associated with disease status and suggested that the relative abundance of dDNA is largely dependent on the integrity of the HBV polymerase and is unrelated to the severity of liver diseas.
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