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Keywords:

  • covalently closed circular DNA (cccDNA);
  • cytotoxic T lymphocyte;
  • HBV-DNA;
  • hepatitis B e antigen seroconversion;
  • hepatitis flare

Abstract  Lamivudine is a nuleoside analog with potent inhibitory effects on hepatitis B virus (HBV) replication. Prolonged therapy is required for sustained suppression. However, HBV species with mutations in the tyrosine-methionine-aspartate-aspartate (YMDD) locus of the HBV-RNA-dependent DNA polymerase confering resistance to lamivudine may emerge after 6–9 months therapy with an incidence of 38% and 67% after 2 and 4 years of lamivudine therapy, respectively. During continued lamivudine therapy, patients with YMDD mutant HBV usually show serum alanine aminotransferase (ALT) and HBV-DNA elevations at lower median levels than their baseline. Marked flare of serum ALT or acute exacerbation may occurred as the results of cytotoxic T lymphocyte mediated immune response directed against YMDD mutant. Although viral clearance with or without emergence of distinct lamivudine resistant mutants may occur after such exacerbations, 20% of the exacerbations are complicated with decompensation or even fatality. The exacerbations appear to be more severe than those occur during the natural course of wild type HBV chronic infection. The current practice of continuing lamivudine therapy, therefore, requires careful evaluation. Alternatives include interferon therapy but this seems ineffective. Adefovir dipivoxil and entecavir may effectively suppress the YMDD mutant but these treatments have not yet been available for use. Recent studies have shown no benefit to continuing lamivudine therapy in patients with YMDD mutantions. Before a rescue drug becomes available, the most cost-effective strategy is to select patients with stronger endogenous anti-HBV immunity to increase efficacy and to shorten the duration of lamivudine therapy to avoid the emergence of YMDD mutations.

© 2002 Blackwell Publishing Asia Pty Ltd