Impact of hepatitis B e antigen-suppressing mutations on the replication efficiency of entecavir-resistant hepatitis B virus strains


Frank Tacke, MD, PhD, Department of Medicine III, RWTH-University Hospital Aachen, Pauwelsstraβe 30, 52074 Aachen, Germany. E-mail:


Summary.  Hepatitis B e antigen (HBeAg)-negative hepatitis B commonly requires long-term treatment with nucleos(t)ide analogues aiming at persistently suppressing hepatitis B virus (HBV) replication to halt progression of liver disease and prevent complications. Entecavir (ETV) is widely used in HBeAg-negative hepatitis B, but distinct HBV polymerase mutations can confer resistance against ETV, in conjunction with lamivudine resistance. Precore (PC) and basal core promoter (BCP) mutations that underlie HBeAg-negativity enhance replication of lamivudine-resistant mutants. To comprehensively analyse the impact of PC or BCP mutations on viral replication of ETV-resistant HBV mutants, replication-competent HBV constructs were generated harbouring lamivudine resistance (rtM204V/rtL180M, rtM204I) plus ETV resistance (rtS202G, rtS202I or rtT184G) on wild-type (WT)-, PC- and BCP-backgrounds. Functional consequences on viral fitness and susceptibility to antivirals were assessed in vitro. The presence of any ETV resistance drastically reduced viral replication when compared to WT HBV. In rtS202G mutants (plus lamivudine resistance), addition of either PC or BCP mutations moderately enhanced the reduced replication, without reaching WT HBV levels. In rtS202I or rtT184G mutants, PC and BCP mutations did not significantly improve viral fitness. All ETV-resistant constructs, independently of PC or BCP mutations, showed resistance towards ETV and lamivudine, but remained susceptible to tenofovir. Our data demonstrate that HBeAg-suppressing PC or BCP mutations cannot restore the strongly reduced replicative capacity of ETV-resistant HBV mutants to WT level, although they moderately increase replication of rtS202G combination mutants. ETV resistance thereby differs from lamivudine resistance alone, corroborating that ETV is in short term a safe option for HBeAg-negative patients.