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Lamivudine (LAM) is associated with the highest known rate of resistance mutations among nucleotide analogs used to treat chronic hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection. Despite this, LAM continues in widespread use, especially in combination therapies. The primary LAM resistance mutation (rtM204V/I) occurs in the YMDD motif of HBV polymerase. The aim of this study was to characterize Brazilian HBV isolates from acute and chronic cases by direct sequencing, and to identify HBV quasispecies in the YMDD motif using a pyrosequencing method capable of detecting single-nucleotide polymorphisms. HBV DNA from serum samples of 20 individuals with acute HBV infection and 44 with chronic infection undergoing antiviral therapies containing LAM were analyzed by direct sequencing and pyrosequencing methods.
Phylogenic analyses of direct-sequenced isolates showed the expected genotypes (A, D and F) for the Brazilian population in both acute and chronic infections. However, within genotype A isolates, subgenotype A2 was more frequently detected in acute cases than in chronic cases (P=0.012). As expected, none of the individuals with acute hepatitis B had LAM-resistant isolates as a dominant virus population, whether detected by direct sequencing or pyrosequencing. However, pyrosequencing analyses showed that 45% of isolates (9/20) had minor subpopulations (4-17%) of LAM-resistant isolates. Among chronic patients undergoing LAM treatment, YMDD mutants were frequently found as a dominant virus population. In cases where wild-type virus was the dominant population, subpopulations of YMDD variants were usually found, demonstrating the complexity of HBV quasispecies.
YMDD variants were frequently detected as a minor population in acute HBV infection. The occurrence of pre-existing variants may lead to a high frequency of resistant mutants during antiviral therapy in the chronic phase. In chronic infection, detection of YMDD variants before virological or biochemical breakthrough might contribute to making better therapy choices and thus improving treatment outcome.