Genetic diversity of genotype D3 in acute hepatitis B

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Acute hepatitis B related to injection drug use is often caused by HBV-D3, a subgenotype that probably was introduced in Western Europe in the 1960s. The aim of this study was to describe genetic change over time in injection drug use-related HBV-D3 in one geographic area. Fourteen complete genomes and partial genomic regions of 17 HBV strains of subgenotype D3 causing acute (n = 30) or chronic (n = 1) hepatitis B at different time points between 1975 and 2009 were investigated. The 14 complete genomes clustered in phylogenetic trees on a sub-branch of HBV-D3 along with a few published sequences with high bootstrap values. In contrast, the phylogenetic tree topology based on nucleotides coding for surface antigen or core was uncertain with bootstrap values below 70% or lower. Variation of nucleotides coding for amino acids 125, 136, and 143 in the a determinant of HBsAg was however linked to complete genome phylogeny, indicating that these codons might be useful as markers for clades. The results show that knowledge about circulating strains is critical for the interpretation of molecular epidemiology investigations. The low degree of genetic change over time of HBV-D3 in the studied groups suggests that outbreaks of acute hepatitis B in injection drug users might originate from a limited number of individuals with chronic infection. Classification based on core or S region phylogeny obtained poor support from bootstrap values, but the presence of clade-specific amino acid substitutions suggests that the S region may be useful for subgenomic molecular epidemiology of HBV.

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