BACKGROUND: The clearance of hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg) loss, defined as functional cure, is a clinical target in patients with chronic hepatitis B (CH). To understand the immune responses underlying functional cure, we evaluated cytokine and chemokine expression profiles from patients with resolving and nonresolving acute hepatitis B (AH). METHODS: We cross-sectionally evaluated 41 chemokines and cytokines at the peak of hepatitis in the sera from 41 self-limited AH patients who achieved HBsAg seroconversion, 8 AH patients who failed to clear HBsAg within 1 year after the diagnosis, 8 CH patients with hepatic flare, and 14 healthy volunteers. We longitudinally examined 41 chemokines and cytokines in the sera from 4 self-limited AH patients, 3 chimpanzees inoculated with hepatitis B virus (HBV), and 2 CH patients treated with nucleotide analogs and PEG-IFN-α, one resulting in functional cure. RESULTS: In AH patients and HBV-inoculated chimpanzees with HBsAg loss, CXCL9, CXCL10, CXCL11, CXCL13, and IL-21 were elevated at hepatitis with subsequent decline of HBsAg. Interestingly, IL-21 elevation was observed only in resolving AH patients but not in nonresolvers. CXCL13 and IL-21 elevation was not observed in CH patients who failed to attain HBsAg loss, even at hepatic flare. A concomitant increase of CXCL13 and IL-21 was significant in CH patients who attained HBsAg seroconversion with a sequential therapy. CONCLUSION: Elevation of serum CXCL9, CXCL10, CXCL11, CXCL13, and IL-21 might be a hallmark of functional cure of AH or CH patients.
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