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Mutations affecting the replication capacity of the hepatitis B virus


Dr Vincent Soriano, Department of Infectious Diseases, Hospital Carlos III, Sinesio Delgado 10, 28029 Madrid, Spain.


Summary.  The genetic variability of the hepatitis B virus (HBV) encounters two compounding forces: a high viral copy number produced during active replication and the lack of proofreading activity in the HBV polymerase, resulting in a high mutational rate. A large pool of quasispecies is generated in which the fittest virus, i.e. the virus that replicates best, becomes the dominant species. Immune and antiviral selection pressures result in vaccine/immunoglobulin escape mutants and antiviral resistant variants. Viruses encoding changes associated with antiviral resistance often have reduced replication in vitro, but the accumulation of additional mutations helps restore viral fitness. These compensatory mutations may occur not only in the polymerase gene but also in other genes such as the overlapping envelope gene, the precore gene, or in regulatory regions such as the basal core promoter. In this report we aim to review the new findings that have appeared in recent months.