Objective To investigate the evolution of hepatitis B virus (HBV) quasispecies (QS) within the reverse transcriptase (RT) region during the early stage of entecavir treatment and its impact on virological response, and to compare evolutionary patterns under different selective pressures.
Methods 31 patients with chronic hepatitis B receiving entecavir (17 responders and 14 partial responders according to the HBV DNA levels at week 48) and 25 patients receiving lamivudine (14 responders and 11 non-responders) as controls were included. An average of 26 clones (2892 total from both groups) spanning the RT region per sample was sequenced.
Results QS complexity and diversity, in addition to alanine aminotransferase and HBV DNA levels, were comparable between responders and partial responders at baseline. However, QS complexity in responders at week 4 was statistically lower than that in partial responders at the nucleotide level (0.6494 vs 0.7723, p=0.039). Net changes in diversity as well as the viral nucleotide substitution rate of responders were higher than those of partial responders, and both correlated with virological responses at both week 48 and the final visit (mean: 28 months). A preliminary model of QS evolution variables predicted 16 of 17 responders and 13 of 14 partial responders in the entecavir group. Despite significant differences between responders to entecavir and responders to lamivudine at week 4, the characteristics of QS were quite similar between partial responders to entecavir and non-responders to lamivudine.
Conclusions The evolutionary patterns of HBV RT QS differ between responders and partial responders during the early stage of entecavir treatment. Characteristics of HBV QS evolution during the first 4 weeks contribute to the prediction of long-term virological responses. The similar patterns of HBV RT QS in partial responders and non-responders receiving different nucleoside analogues may imply a novel mechanism of drug resistance, which warrants further investigation.
- Hepatitis B
- chronic/drug therapy/virology
- hepatitis B virus/drug effects/genetics
- genetic heterogeneity
- antiviral agents/therapeutic use
- antiviral therapy
- drug resistance
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Funding Key Projects in the National Science & Technology Pillar Program during the 11th Five-year Plan of China (no. 2009ZX10004-314, 2008ZX10002-007), the State Major Basic Research Program (973) of China (no. 2005CB523104), the National Nature Science Foundation (no. 30872251) and the Shanghai Municipal Research Leader Program (No.08XD1402800).
Competing interests None.
Patient consent Obtained.
Ethics approval This study was conducted with the approval of the Ethics Committee of Ruijin Hospital.
Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.