Spontaneous HBeAg seroconversion and loss of hepatitis B virus DNA after acute flare due to development of drug resistant mutants during entecavir monotherapy


Dr Ji-Ming Zhang, Department of Infectious Diseases, Huashan Hospital, Fudan University, 12 Wulumuqi Middle Road, Shanghai 200040, China. Email: jmzhang@fudan.edu.cn or

Dr Mengji Lu, Institut für Virologie, Universitätsklinikum Essen, Hufelandstrasse 55, 45122 Essen, Germany. Email: mengji.lu@uni-due.de


Aims:  Patients with chronic hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection under entecavir (ETV) treatment develop resistant mutants with viral rebound. Here, we report an interesting case of spontaneous loss of HBV-DNA and seroconversion following an acute flare after the development of ETV-resistant mutants. This patient received ETV after lamivudine breakthrough.

Methods:  Cloning and sequence analysis of the HBV reverse transcriptase (RT) region were performed with seven samples during ETV therapy. In addition, two full-length HBV genomes derived from samples before and after the emergence of ETV resistance were sequenced.

Results:  ETV resistant mutants appeared at week 228, with virological and biochemical rebound at the same time. Unexpectedly, HBeAg seroconversion occurred 8 weeks later. The viral load decreased and became undetectable from week 252. Analysis of HBV isolates in the patient at week 124 revealed that wild-type HBV was predominant at that time and ETV resistant mutants were not found among 20 clones. Interestingly, a new mutant type with rtL180M+rtT184L was found alongside rtL180M+rtT184L+rtM204V/I at week 228 and appeared to develop independently, according to the sequence analysis. In contrast to the previously identified ETV resistant mutants, it did not carry the rtM204V/I mutations.

Conclusion:  The data presented here indicates that the flare following the emergence of ETV resistant mutants may reflect immune-mediated control of HBV infection, leading to a spontaneous loss of HBV-DNA and seroconversion.