INSERM, U-773, CRB3, Université Paris-Diderot, Hôpital Beaujon, Clichy, France.
Since its discovery by Blumberg in 1965, the hepatitis B virus antigen (HBsAg) is used as the fingerprint of hepatitis B infection. The HBsAg level is a reflection of the transcriptional activity of cccDNA. It is an important marker that not only indicates active hepatitis B infection but can also predict clinical and treatment outcomes. Assays for HBsAg quantification are fully automated and have high output. HBsAg titres are higher in HBe antigen (HBeAg)(+) than in HBeAg(-) patients and are negatively correlated with liver fibrosis in HBeAg(+) patients. In HBeAg(-) chronic hepatitis B, an HBsAg level <1000 IU/ml and an HBV DNA titre <2000 IU/ml accurately identify inactive carriers. During PEG-IFN treatment, HBsAg quantification is used to identify patients who will not benefit from therapy as early as week 12 on therapy, so that treatment may be stopped or switched- 'week 12 stopping rule'. With nucleos(t)ide analogues (NA), the role of HBsAg quantification must be clarified. Several studies show that baseline and on-treatment HBsAg levels might identify patients that can be treated with no subsequent risk of reactivation. In clinical practice, HBsAg quantification is a simple and reproducible tool that can be used in association with HBV DNA to classify patients during the natural history of HBV and to monitor therapy.