Efficacy of lamivudine in HBeAg-negative chronic hepatitis B


  • Mario Rizzetto

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Gastroenterology, Molinette, University of Torino, Torino, Italy
    • Azienda Ospedaliera S. Giovanni Battista di Torino, Department of Gastroenterology, University of Torino, C. so Bramante n. 88, 10126 Torino, Italy.
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Hepatitis B e antigen (HBeAg)-negative chronic hepatitis B results from infection with hepatitis B virus mutants unable to produce HBeAg. It accounts for 7–30% of patients with chronic hepatitis B virus (HBV) worldwide, with the highest rates reported for Mediterranean Europe and Asia. Interferon (IFN) is currently the only approved therapy for these patients, but it has an unfavorable tolerance profile and limited efficacy. Studies show that responses to IFN are lower in HBeAg-negative than in HBeAg-positive patients; joint HBV DNA loss/ALT normalization is obtained in 38–59% of HBeAg-negative patients treated for 4–24 months with a high rate of virological relapse (54–87%), at 6–24 months posttreatment. Lamivudine is a nucleoside analogue with potent antiviral properties against HBV. Studies show that response rates in HBeAg-negative and HBeAg-positive patients are equivalent. After 12 months of treatment, 65–96% of HBeAg-negative patients have joint HBV DNA loss/ALT normalization, although 48–74% of patients relapse within 1 year posttreatment. 60% of patients have histological improvement after 12 months of treatment. Lamivudine is well tolerated with a safety profile equivalent to that of placebo. The incidence of YMDD variants increases with extended lamivudine treatment, present in up to 57–64% of patients after 2 years. Their clinical impact is unclear; some studies show breakthrough infection associated with their emergence, whereas other studies show maintained response to lamivudine. Lamivudine has benefits over IFN in its safety and efficacy profile in this patient group. Extended lamivudine treatment beyond 2 years is an option, but further investigation is required to define stopping criteria and the impact of YMDD variants. J. Med. Virol. 66:435–451, 2002. © 2002 Wiley-Liss, Inc.