During more than 104 weeks of treatment with lamivudine (3TC) in chronic woodchuck hepatitis virus (WHV) carrier woodchucks, viral recrudescence occurred. Analysis of WHV DNA polymerase from woodchuck serum samples by PCR followed by DNA sequencing demonstrated that all samples were wild type at the conserved YMDD motif in domain C. Four of the six 3TC-treated woodchucks showed a mixture of the wild-type Ala (GCT) and the mutant Thr (ACT) at the conserved amino acid residue 566 (FLLA) in domain B of the WHV polymerase region. The appearance of the A566T mutation was temporally associated with viral recrudescence. This change is analogous with the amino acid 181 (FLLA) in HBV where 3TC selects for a change from Ala to Thr in humans. In the woodchuck, the Ala to Thr change in the polymerase gene results in a mutation of the WHV surface protein (amino acid 377) from Trp (TGG) to an opal codon (TGA), which may prematurely terminates the polypeptide. Three WHV molecular infectious clones were constructed to study this mutation in greater detail in vitro: A566T, analogous to A181T in HBV; M589V, analogous to the M204V in HBV; and the double mutant A566T/M589V, analogous to A181T/M204V in HBV. These mutants exhibited drug-sensitivity and replication profiles that paralleled those reported for analogous HBV variants. In transfected Huh7 cells, WHV containing the M589V mutation conferred at least 100-fold increased resistance to 3TC, but replicated approximately 5-fold less efficiently than wild-type virus as judged by both extracellular virus production and intracellular DNA replicative forms. In contrast, A566T mutant was approximately 10-fold more resistant to 3TC, replicated intracellularly as well as wild type, but produced 10-fold lower levels of virions than wild type. These findings are consistent with the observation that the A566T mutation alters the overlapping WHV surface antigen reading frame. WHV carrying mutations in the conserved YMDD motif, while not directly selected during lamivudine therapy in WHV carrier woodchucks, are replication competent in cell culture indicating the potential for their emergence in treated animals. These results further illustrate the utility of the WHV/woodchuck model to studies of HBV-drug resistance.