Genetic diversity of the hepatitis B virus strains in Cuba: Absence of West-African genotypes despite the transatlantic slave trade

Licel A. Rodríguez Lay, Marité B. Corredor, Maria C. Villalba, Susel S. Frómeta, Meilin S. Wong, Lidunka Valdes, Marcia Samada, Aurélie Sausy, Judith M. Hübschen, Claude P. Muller

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Cuba is an HBsAg low-prevalence country with a high coverage of anti-hepatitis B vaccine. Its population is essentially the result of the population mix of Spanish descendants and former African slaves. Information about genetic characteristics of hepatitis B virus (HBV) strains circulating in the country is scarce. The HBV genotypes/subgenotypes, serotypes, mixed infections, and S gene mutations of 172 Cuban HBsAg and HBV-DNA positive patients were determined by direct sequencing and phylogenetic analysis. Phylogenetic analysis of HBV S gene sequences showed a predominance of genotype A (92.4%), subgenotype A2 (84.9%) and A1 (7.6%). Genotype D (7.0%) and subgenotype C1 (0.6%) were also detected but typical (sub)genotypes of contemporary West-Africa (E, A3) were conspicuously absent. All genotype A, D, and C strains exhibited sequence characteristics of the adw2, ayw2, and adrq serotypes, respectively. Thirty-three (19.1%) patients showed single, double, or multiple point mutations inside the Major Hydrophilic domain associated with vaccine escape; eighteen (10.5%) patients had mutations in the T-cell epitope (amino acids 28-51), and there were another 111 point mutations downstream of the S gene. One patient had an HBV A1/A2 mixed infection. This first genetic study of Cuban HBV viruses revealed only strains that were interspersed with strains from particularly Europe, America, and Asia. The absence of genotype E supports previous hypotheses about an only recent introduction of this genotype into the general population in Africa. The presence of wellknown vaccine escape (3.5%) and viral resistance mutants (2.9%) warrants strain surveillance to guide vaccination and treatment strategies.

Original languageEnglish
Article number0125052
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 15 May 2015


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