The sensitivity and specificity of two non-radioactive spot hybridization assays for hepatitis B virus DNA (HBV-DNA) using biotin and digoxygenin-labelled DNA probes were investigated in parallel in 122 serum samples from patients with chronic hepatitis B and 50 controls. The results were compared with an isotopic technique using a 32P-labelled probe. HBV-DNA was detected in 56 (80%) out of 70 hepatitis B “e” antigen (HBeAg)-positive cases and in 4 (8%) out of 52 antibody to hepatitis B “e” antigen (anti-HBe)-positive cases using the digoxygenin or 32P-labelled probes. No false positives were found with either method. Using the biotin-labelled probe, 16% of sera gave discordant results, which were considered to be false positive. The time required for detection of serum HBV-DNA was 2 hours for the non-radioactive probes and 16 hours for the isotopic probes. This study suggests that the digoxygenin-labelled probe for detection of HBV-DNA is the most rapid and sensitive method for routine diagnosis of viral replication in clinical laboratories. © 1991 Walter de Gruyter & Co.