Division of Gastroenterology, Department of Internal Medicine, Buddhist Tzu Chi General Hospital, Taipei Branch, Taipei, Taiwan.
Using commercial quantitative assays, quantitative hepatitis B surface antigen (qHBsAg) has improved our understanding and management of chronic hepatitis B (CHB). The HBsAg level is highest in the immune tolerance phase, starts to decline during the immune clearance phase, and decreases slowly but progressively after hepatitis B e antigen (HBeAg) seroconversion. The HBsAg level is lowest in individuals with an inactive carrier state but higher in those who develop HBeAg-negative hepatitis. It has been shown that a reduction of HBsAg by 1 log IU/mL or more reflects improved host immune control of HBV infection. A combination of HBsAg <1000 IU/mL and HBV-DNA <2000 IU/mL can identify a 3-year inactive state in a genotype D HBeAg-negative carrier population. In the Asian-Pacific region, where HBV genotypes B and C are dominant, HBsAg levels of ≤10-100 IU/mL predict HBsAg loss over time. As to the prediction of disease progression, low-viremic carriers with HBsAg >1000 IU/mL have been shown to be at higher risks of HBeAg-negative hepatitis, cirrhosis, and hepatocellular carcinoma than those with HBsAg <1000 IU/mL. Although qHBsAg has been widely used in CHB patients receiving pegylated interferon therapy, the HBsAg decline is slow and does not correlate with HBV-DNA levels during nucleos(t)ide analogue (NUC) therapy. However, a rapid HBsAg decline during NUC therapy may identify patients who will finally clear HBsAg. A 6- to 12-monthly assessment of HBsAg level could be considered during NUC therapy. Taking these lines of evidence together, qHBsAg can complement HBV-DNA levels to optimize the management of CHB patients in our daily clinical practice.