A population of 488 HBsAg carrier individuals, from central Italy, classified on the basis of biochemical, clinical and histological parameters, was analysed for the presence of HBV-DNA in serum and its relationship with HBeAg/anti-HBe markers. The prevalence of HBV-DNA was 32·8% in chronic patients with biopsy-proven liver disease, and 20 and 4·3% respectively in asymptomatic carriers with and without altered ALT levels. The values in chronic patients were correlated with the histological activity.
Concordance of HBV-DNA presence and HBeAg positivity was observed in only 61·4% of cases. However HBV-DNA prevalence in sera of anti-HBe positive individuals was very low in asymptomatic carriers with normal ALT levels (2·5%). Higher values were observed in anti-HBe positive chronic patients (15·8%) and in carriers occasionally found with changes in ALT without any other clinical sign of illness (16·7%). These data would indicate that HBV-DNA is the serological marker which is most closely related to liver disease.