Clear indicators for stopping antiviral therapy in chronic hepatitis B (CHB) patients are not yet available. Since the level of hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg) is correlated with covalently closed circular DNA, the HBsAg titer might be a good indicator of the off-treatment response. This study aimed to determine the relationship between the HBsAg titer and the entecavir (ETV) off-treatment response.
This study analyzed 44 consecutive CHB patients (age, 44.6±11.4 years, mean±SD; men, 63.6%; positive hepatitis B envelope antigen (HBeAg) at baseline, 56.8%; HBV DNA level, 6.8±1.3 log10 IU/mL) treated with ETV for a sufficient duration and in whom treatment was discontinued after HBsAg levels were measured. A virological relapse was defined as an increase in serum HBV DNA level of >2000 IU/mL, and a clinical relapse was defined as a virological relapse with a biochemical flare, defined as an increase in the serum alanine aminotransferase level of >2 × upper limit of normal.
After stopping ETV, virological relapse and clinical relapse were observed in 32 and 24 patients, respectively, during 20.8±19.9 months of follow-up. The cumulative incidence rates of virological relapse were 36.2% and 66.2%, respectively, at 6 and 12 months, and those of clinical relapse were 14.3% and 42.3%. The off-treatment HBsAg level was an independent factor associated with clinical relapse (hazard ratio, 2.251; 95% confidence interval, 1.076-4.706; P=0.031). When patients were grouped according to off-treatment HBsAg levels, clinical relapse did not occur in patients with an off-treatment HBsAg level of ≤2 log10 IU/mL (n=5), while the incidence rates of clinical relapse at 12 months after off-treatment were 28.4% and 55.7% in patients with off-treatment HBsAg levels of >2 and ≤3 log10 IU/mL (n=11) and >3 log10 IU/mL (n=28), respectively.
The off-treatment HBsAg level is closely related to clinical relapse after treatment cessation. A serum HBsAg level of <2 log10 IU/mL is an excellent predictor of a sustained off-treatment response in CHB patients who have received ETV for a sufficient duration.
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