Long-term follow-up of chronic hepatitis B after the emergence of mutations in the hepatitis B virus polymerase region


Mitsuteru Natsuizaka, Gastroenterology & Hematology Section, Department of Internal Medicine, Hokkaido University Graduate School of Medicine, North 15, West 7, Kita-ku, Sapporo 060-8638, Japan. E-mail: natsu-m@med.hokudai.ac.jp


Summary.  Treatment of chronic hepatitis B has been greatly improved by the use of lamivudine, but mutations occur in the polymerase region of hepatitis B virus (HBV) and lamivudine-resistant mutants frequently develop. The emergence of lamivudine-resistant strains of HBV is a problem for treating chronic hepatitis B using lamivudine. We observed biochemical and virological changes in 15 patients with chronic hepatitis B for a median period of 29 months (range: 4–42 months) after the emergence of lamivudine-resistant mutants of HBV. Patterns of mutation of the polymerase gene were examined by sequencing the LLAQ motif in domain B and the YMDD motif in domain C. Exacerbation of liver dysfunction occurred in 14 (93.3%) of the 15 patients at a median of 4 months after the emergence of mutations. However, exacerbation of liver dysfunction was observed only in four patients (26.7%) at the time of appearance of the first mutations and in 80.0% of the patients at the time of appearance of the second mutations. Increase in serum alanine aminotransferase (ALT) levels was significantly greater at the time of appearance of second mutations (P = 0.0096). In most cases, wild-type HBV was mutated with the substitution of only rtM204I at first, and rtL180M/M204I mutations and then rtL180M/M204V mutations subsequently appeared. Further mutations of the polymerase region caused clinical deterioration. Thus as mutations emerge in the polymerase region, the clinical outcome deteriorates. Thus, monitoring the patterns of mutation of the polymerase gene is useful when using lamivudine for treating HBV.