YMDD motif in hepatitis B virus DNA polymerase influences on replication and lamivudine resistance: A study by in vitrofull-length viral DNA transfection



Recently, lamivudine used to treat patients with hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection was revealed to have potent antiviral activity. However, HBV resistance to lamivudine has been reported and shown to have amino acid substitutions in the methionine residue of the conserved tyrosine (Y), methionine (M), aspartate (D), aspartate (D) motif of RNA-dependent DNA polymerase. To explore the consequences of substitutions in this motif (YMDD), we made 7 variants by substituting the methionine of the YMDD motif with isoleucine (I), valine (V), alanine (A), leucine (L), lysine (K), arginine (R), and threonine (T). Replication ability of these variants was evaluated by transfection into human hepatoma cells. Sensitivity to lamivudine was tested for replication-competent variants. Four variants with hydrophobic substitutions (I, V, A, and L) remained replication-competent, whereas 3 others with hydrophilic substitutions (K, R, and T) exhibited impaired replication. Of the 4 replication-competent variants, 2 (I and V) were resistant, and 2 (A and L) were sensitive to lamivudine. Because the polymerase and the surface gene overlap, the introduction of these mutations affected the secretion of hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg), namely 4 variants (I, V, L, and R) secreted HBsAg, whereas 3 variants (A, K, and T) did not. Our study elucidated that only one amino acid substitution in the YMDD motif was sufficient to cause lamivudine resistance in vitro. As a result of replication competence and lamivudine sensitivity, only viruses having YIDD or YVDD sequences may appear during treatment with lamivudine. This in vitro system could be used to study HBV mutations, replication competence, and their susceptibility to antivirals.