Hepatitis B viral (HBV) infection in early childhood is one of the leading causes of chronic hepatitis and liver cirrhosis that eventually lead to hepatic carcinoma. Despite the nationwide immunization programs to curtail the vertical transmission of HBV, childhood HBV infection through mothers is still occurring in Korea. As one of the efforts to understand the childhood HBV infection in Korea, four HBV promoter sequences in the sera of the chronically infected children were analyzed. Children harbored diverse viral variants as most of the chronically infected adult patients, but the deletion mutations were rare. The dominant viral sequences in the children were highly similar to the ones in the respective mothers, indicating that the maternal viruses were most likely transmitted to the children. The mutations in X, S1, S2/S promoters did not seem to show any correlation to the severity of the disease nor ages of the children. The mutations that showed some correlation to the severity of the disease were the mutations in C promoter, but the mutations did not seem to be vertically transmitted. Finally, the children with the elevated ALT/AST levels tended to have more child-specific variants suggesting that the accumulation of host-specific mutations might be associated with the development of clinical symptoms.
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