Lamivudine is a potent inhibitor of hepatitis B virus (HBV) replication. The aim of this study is to elucidate the effectiveness of lamivudine for the treatment of HBV reactivation with or without fulminant hepatic failure in renal transplant recipients. Forty-two renal transplant recipients (30 men, 12 women) were enrolled onto this study. Eight patients presented with HBV reactivation without fulminant hepatic failure and were administered lamivudine (group I), 5 patients presented with HBV and hepatic failure and were administered lamivudine (group II), 5 patients presented with HBV and hepatic failure but were not administered lamivudine (group III), and 24 patients were asymptomatic HBV carriers who were not administered lamivudine (group IV). Lamivudine was administered at a dose of 100 or 150 mg once daily. A greater prevalence of recent use of a combination of antilymphocyte immunoglobulin (ALG) and methylprednisolone (MP) occurred in patients with hepatic failure (groups II and III) than those without hepatic failure (30% versus 6.3%; P = 0.043). However, there was no significant difference in the incidence of MP use alone (20% versus 25%; P = 0.746). Mortality rates for groups I, II, and III were significantly different (12.5%, 40%, 100%; P = 0.008). One patient in group I died of sepsis without evidence of HBV DNA, even in the terminal event. In group II, 3 of 5 patients (60%) were rescued by lamivudine therapy. In group III, without lamivudine treatment, there was a 100% mortality rate despite intensive plasmapheresis. HBV DNA was not detectable after lamivudine treatment in 7 of 8 patients in group I and 3 of 5 patients in group II. Creatinine levels did not change significantly during lamivudine treatment. Hepatitis B surface antigen and hepatitis B e antigen seroconversion rates after lamivudine treatment were 7.7% and 37.5%, respectively. We conclude that ALG is a potent trigger of HBV-related fulminant hepatic failure in renal transplant recipients, whereas lamivudine is an effective and lifesaving treatment. Prompt use of lamivudine is recommended in renal transplant recipients with evidence of HBV reactivation to prevent catastrophic fulminant hepatic failure.