Ground glass hepatocytes (GGHs) have been shown to predict the development of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). Type I GGH and type II GGH harbor hepatitis B virus (HBV) pre-S1 and pre-S2 deletion mutants, respectively. Whether anti-HBV therapy can inhibit the expression of GGHs and potentially reduce HCC development is explored in this study. Two sets of liver specimens were included: the first contained 31 paired biopsy specimens obtained from chronic HBV patients receiving oral nucleos(t)ide analogue (NA) treatment; the second contained 186 resected liver tissues obtained from HBV-related HCC patients receiving surgery: 82 received NA before surgery and 104 did not. Compared with the baseline biopsy specimens, type I (P=0.527) and type II GGH (P=0.077) were not significantly decreased after 48 weeks of NA treatment in the first set of patients. In the second set, despite suppression of viral load (P<0.001) and periportal necrosis (P=0.006) in treated patients, GGH (P=0.594), cccDNA (P=0.172) and serum pre-S mutants (p=0.401) were not significantly suppressed. A significant decrease of type I (P=0.049) and type II GGH (P=0.029) could only be observed in patients after long duration of treatment (median duration: 4.3 years). In the treated patients, the persisted type II GGH remained an independent variable associated with decreased local recurrence-free survival of HCC (P=0.019) as in nontreated patients (P=0.001). In conclusion, the persistence of GGHs could explain the residual risk of HCC development under anti-HBV treatment. Therefore, intrahepatic GGHs and pre-S mutant are potential additional targets for HCC prevention in patients already receiving anti-HBV treatment.
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