Cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma occur as long-term complications of chronic hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection. Antiviral therapy is potentially a successful approach for the treatment of patients with HBV infection, which includes the nucleoside analog, lamivudine [(-)2'-deoxy-3'-thiacytidine, 3TC]. Although resistance to lamivudine therapy has been reported in several HBV-infected patients, the pattern of resistance-associated mutations in HBV has not been fully characterized. We report a DNA sequence database that includes a 500-base pair region of the HBV polymerase gene from 20 patients with clinical manifestations of lamivudine resistance. Analysis of the database reveals two patterns of amino acid substitutions in the tyrosine, methionine, aspartate, aspartate (YMDD) nucleotide-binding locus of the HBV polymerase. HBV DNA from the sera of patients in Group I exhibits a substitution of valine for methionine at residue 552, accompanied by a substitution of methionine for leucine at residue 528. Patients in Group II had only an isoleucine-for-methionine substitution at position 552. Reconstruction of these mutations in an HBV replication-competent plasmid was performed in a transient transfection cell assay to determine the function/relevance of these mutations to lamivudine resistance. Both Group I and Group II mutations resulted in a substantial decrease in sensitivity to lamivudine treatment (> 10,000-fold shift in IC50 over wild-type [wt] IC50), strongly indicating that these mutations were involved in resistance to lamivudine. A hypothetical model of the HBV reverse transcriptase has been generated for further study of the role of these mutations in lamivudine resistance.