Efficacy of hepatitis B vaccine against antiviral drug-resistant hepatitis B virus mutants in the chimpanzee model


  • Potential conflict of interest: Nothing to report.


Hepatitis B virus (HBV) mutants resistant to treatment with nucleoside or nucleotide analogs and those with the ability to escape from HBV-neutralizing antibody have the potential to infect HBV-vaccinated individuals. To address this potential serious public health challenge, we tested the efficacy of immunity induced by a commercial hepatitis B vaccine against a tissue culture-derived, clonal HBV polymerase mutant in HBV seronegative chimpanzees. The polymerase gene mutant contained a combination of three mutations (rtV173L, rtL180M, rtM204V), two of which resulted in changes to the overlapping viral envelope of the hepatitis B surface antigen (sE164D, sI195M). Prior to the HBV mutant challenge of vaccinated chimpanzees, we established virologic, serologic, and pathologic characteristics of infections resulting from intravenous inoculation of the HBV polymerase gene mutant and the sG145R vaccine-escape surface gene mutant. Cloning and sequencing experiments determined that the three mutations in the polymerase gene mutant remained stable and that the single mutation in the surface gene mutant reverted to the wild-type sequence. Immunological evidence of HBV replication was observed in the vaccinated chimpanzees after challenge with the polymerase gene mutant as well as after rechallenge with serum-derived wild-type HBV (5,000 chimpanzee infectious doses administered intravenously), despite robust humoral and cellular anti-HBV immune responses after hepatitis B vaccination. Conclusion: Our data showing successful experimental infection by HBV mutants despite the presence of high anti-HBs levels considered protective in the vaccinated host are consistent with clinical reports on breakthrough infection in anti-HBs-positive patients infected with HBV mutants. In the absence of a protective humoral immunity, adaptive cellular immune responses elicited by infection may limit HBV replication and persistence. (HEPATOLOGY 2009.)