A 681 nucleotide fragment of the hepatitis B virus (HBV) genome was sequenced that corresponded to the complete gene for hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg) in 80 HBsAg- and hepatitis B e antigen (HBeAg)-positive sera of diverse geographical origins. These and 42 previously published HBV sequences within the S gene were used for the construction of a dendrogram. In this comparison, each of the 122 HBsAg genes was found to be related to one or other of the six previously identified genomic groups of HBV, A to F. The HBV strains within each genomic group showed a characteristic geographical distribution. Group A genomes were represented by 23 strains mainly originating in northern Europe and sub-Saharan Africa. The group B and C genomes, represented by 17 and 28 strains respectively, were confined to populations with origins in eastern Asia and the Far East. The group D genomes, represented by 38 strains, were found worldwide, but were the predominant strains in the Mediterranean area, the Near and Middle East, and in south Asia. Group E genomes, represented by nine strains, were indigenous to western sub-Saharan Africa as far south as Angola. There were indications that the F group, made up of six strains, represented the genomic group of HBV among populations with origins in the New World. Thus, HBV has diverged into genomic groups according to the distribution of mankind in the different continents. As well as giving information on the genetic relationship of HBV strains of different geographical origin, this study also provides information on the primary structure of HBsAg in different regions of the world. Such data might prove valuable in explaining the reported failures to obtain protection with current HBV vaccines.


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