Background & aims: Ribavirin monotherapy is the preferred treatment for chronic hepatitis E, although occasional treatment failure occurs. We present a patient with chronic hepatitis E experiencing ribavirin treatment failure with a completely resistant phenotype. We aimed to identify viral mutations associated with treatment failure and explore the underlying mechanisms.
Methods: Viral genomes were deep-sequenced at different time points and the role of identified mutations was assessed in vitro using mutant replicons, antiviral assays, cell culture of patient-derived virus and deep-sequencing.
Results: Ribavirin resistance was associated with Y1320H, K1383N and G1634R mutations in the viral polymerase, but also an insertion in the hypervariable region comprising a duplication and a polymerase-derived fragment. Analysis of these genome alterations in vitro revealed replication-increasing roles for Y1320H and G1634R mutations and the hypervariable region insertion. In contrast, the K1383N mutation in the polymerase F1-motif suppressed viral replication and increased the in vitro sensitivity to ribavirin, contrary to the clinical phenotype. Analysis of the replication of mutant full-length virus and in vitro culturing of patient-derived virus confirmed that sensitivity to ribavirin was retained. Finally, deep-sequencing of hepatitis E virus genomes revealed that ribavirin is mutagenic to viral replication in vitro and in vivo.
Conclusions: Mutations Y1320H, G1634R and the hypervariable region insertion compensated for K1383N-associated replication defects. The specific role of the K1383N mutation remains enigmatic, but it appears to be of importance for the ribavirin resistant phenotype in this patient.
Lay summary: Ribavirin is the most common treatment for chronic hepatitis E and is mostly effective, although some cases of ribavirin treatment failure have been described. Here, we report on a particular case of ribavirin resistance and investigate the underlying causes of treatment failure. Mutations in the viral polymerase, an essential enzyme for viral replication, appear to be responsible.
Keywords: Chronic hepatitis E; Fidelity; G1634R; Hepatitis E virus; Hypervariable region; RNA-dependent RNA polymerase; Resistance; Ribavirin.
Copyright © 2016 European Association for the Study of the Liver. Published by Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.