Hepatitis E virus mutations associated with ribavirin treatment failure result in altered viral fitness and ribavirin sensitivity

J Hepatol. 2016 Sep;65(3):499-508. doi: 10.1016/j.jhep.2016.05.002. Epub 2016 May 9.


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.

MeSH terms

  • Antiviral Agents
  • Drug Resistance, Viral
  • Hepatitis E virus*
  • Humans
  • Mutation
  • Ribavirin
  • Treatment Failure
  • Virus Replication


  • Antiviral Agents
  • Ribavirin