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Abstract

Asian lamivudine trial has shown that hepatitis B e antigen (HBeAg) seroconversion rate during 1 year of lamivudine therapy was only 16% but was 64% in the subgroup of patients with a pretherapy serum alanine transaminase (ALT) level over 5 times the upper limit of normal (ULN). To test whether ALT rebound following corticosteroid priming enhances response to lamivudine therapy, a pilot study was conducted in 30 patients with ALT levels less than 5× ULN (43-169; N < 36 U/L). They received 30 mg of prednisolone daily for 3 weeks, 15 mg daily for 1 week, no treatment for 2 weeks, and then 150 mg of lamivudine daily for 9 months. Complete response (CR) was defined as ALT normalization with HBV-DNA seroclearance and HBeAg seroconversion. Peripheral blood mononuclear cell proliferation and cytokine secretion in response to recombinant HBV core antigen were serially assayed in 7 patients during priming and after withdrawal of prednisolone. Clinical rebound with an ALT over 5× ULN was observed in 20 patients (67%). Of these 20, 12 (60%) showed CR as compared with 1 (10%) of the 10 patients without significant ALT rebound (P < .002). The HBeAg seroconversion sustained in 70% of the patients 3 to 6 months after the end of lamivudine therapy. Immunological assays revealed that the responders showed Th1 dominant response and higher stimulation index to prednisolone priming. No serious side effect was encountered. These results suggest that corticosteroid priming induced immune/ALT rebound greatly enhances response to lamivudine therapy in chronic hepatitis B. Confirmation by randomized controlled trial is needed.