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J Virol. 1997 April; 71(4): 3346–3350.
PMCID: PMC191477

Initial appearance of the 184Ile variant in lamivudine-treated patients is caused by the mutational bias of human immunodeficiency virus type 1 reverse transcriptase.


Treatment of human immunodeficiency virus type 1-infected patients with lamivudine (3TC) results in the appearance of drug-resistant virus variants with a mutation at the 184Met codon (ATG) of the reverse transcriptase (RT) gene. The 184Ile (ATA) variant appears first, but subsequently the 184Val (GTG) variant outcompetes the 184Ile variant. We demonstrated previously that the 184Val enzyme and the corresponding virus are more fit than 184Ile, thereby explaining eventual outgrowth of 184Val. In this study, we set out to determine why 184Ile is usually observed first after initiation of 3TC therapy. With a limiting dilution approach during in vitro selection with 3TC, we measured a significantly higher frequency of the G-->A substitution toward the ATA codon (184Ile; 56%) than the A-->G substitution toward GTG (184Val; 12.5%). This result indicates that the initial appearance of the 184Ile variant in patients is a consequence of the mutation bias of the RT enzyme. Interestingly, a novel 3TC-resistant variant which was generated by T-->C substitution (184Thr; 28%) was also observed. The RT enzyme of the 184Thr variant was less than 10% active compared with the wild-type enzyme, and the replication capacity of this variant was severely reduced. Selection of the 184Thr variant illustrates that the limiting dilution approach allows the selection of drug-resistant variants with suboptimal fitness.

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