Hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection after liver transplantation (LT) may lead to severe and rapidly progressive graft failure. Antiviral treatment may be of benefit in selected patients with recurrent hepatitis B post-LT. The aim of this prospective open-label study is to determine the safety and efficacy of lamivudine in 33 liver transplant recipients with active HBV infection. The median time from LT to study enrollment was 51 months, all patients were hepatitis B surface antigen positive, and 75% and 94% of subjects had detectable hepatitis B e antigen (HBeAG) and HBV DNA at entry, respectively. The median duration of lamivudine treatment on study was 85 weeks, during which time median HBV DNA levels became undetectable by 16 weeks and 9% of patients lost previously detectable HBeAg. Serum alanine aminotransferase (ALT) levels improved in most patients and normalized in 27% of patients with elevated values pretreatment. Serum bilirubin and albumin levels significantly improved in patients with abnormal values at entry (P < .05). Virological breakthrough was detected in 13 subjects after a median of 61 weeks of lamivudine treatment and was confirmed to be caused by YMDD mutants in all patients tested. None of the patients with virological breakthrough showed a complete loss of clinical response to lamivudine. Serum ALT and bilirubin levels in patients with and without virological breakthrough were not significantly different at last study follow-up. Study results show that lamivudine is safe and effective in liver transplant recipients with recurrent hepatitis B. However, the high rate of virological breakthrough with prolonged therapy indicates the need for further studies of combination antiviral therapy in this patient population. Our results and others further establish the improving long-term outcomes with LT for patients with hepatitis B through advances in prevention of reinfection, as well as the availability of safe and effective antiviral therapies to treat patients with HBV recurrence.
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