The aim of the study was to investigate the use of flow cytometry, as an alternative for immunohistochemistry, for the detection of viral antigens in the liver of patients with chronic hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection. Hepatocytes were obtained from regular- and fine-needle biopsy from HBV positive (n = 17) and negative (n = 7) patients and quantified by flow cytometry for intracellular hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg) and hepatitis B core antigen (HBcAg). Number of HBsAg positive hepatocytes ranged from 0 to 83%. A significant correlation was found between the percentage of infected hepatocytes and the intracellular expression level of HBsAg (R = 0.841, p < 0.001). The specificity and sensitivity of flow cytometry was similar to immunohistochemistry. Of the patients on anti-viral treatment with undetectable serum HBV DNA (<400 copies/ml), two had high HBsAg expression in the liver. HBcAg staining was found in 3 out of 15 patients, with 2-3% positive hepatocytes. The results obtained with fine-needle aspiration biopsy (n = 12) were comparable to regular biopsy. In conclusion, flowcytometric quantitation of HBV antigens is sensitive and provides relevant information on the course of infection. The minimally invasive fine-needle biopsy provides a useful alternative for regular-needle biopsy for monitoring intrahepatic antiviral responses during therapy.

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Keywords Aspiration biopsy, FNAB, Flow cytometry, HBV, HBcAg, HBsAg, Intrahepatic
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Journal Journal of Virological Methods
van der Laan, L.J.W, Taimr, P, Kok, A, Sprengers, D, Zondervan, P.E, Tilanus, H.W, & Janssen, H.L.A. (2007). Flowcytometric quantitation of hepatitis B viral antigens in hepatocytes from regular and fine-needle biopsies. Journal of Virological Methods, 142(1-2), 189–197. doi:10.1016/j.jviromet.2007.01.027