Background: Lamivudine treatment has been recently demonstrated to increase the serum albumin levels in cirrhotic patients with hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection, but the precise mechanism remains unclear. We hypothesized that the improvement of hypoalbuminemia by lamivudine may be attributable to the reduction of HBV replication itself, rather than to cessation of hepatitis. In order to confirm this hypothesis, in this study we evaluated factors which correlated with the increase in serum albumin levels. Fifty-four patients (Child-Pugh A/B/C, 35/9/10) with HBV-related liver cirrhosis who had been treated with lamivudine for more than 12 months were evaluated. We analyzed the correlation between the increase in serum albumin levels at month 12 after starting treatment (Δ-albumin) and various pretreatment variables. We also analyzed the correlation between Δ-albumin and the reduction in serum levels of HBV-DNA (Δ-HBV-DNA) or alanine aminotransferase (Δ-ALT) at month 12. Results: The average Δ-albumin was 0.38 g/dL and only serum HBV-DNA levels before treatment correlated significantly with Δ-albumin. We also analyzed the correlation in patients whose alanine aminotransferase levels were normalized after 12 months so that the possible influence of breakthrough hepatitis could be excluded. Even among this subgroup of patients, there was no significant correlation between Δ-albumin and either pretreatment alanine aminotransferase levels or Δ-ALT. In contrast, in patients whose serum HBV-DNA was undetectable at month 12, we found a significant correlation between Δ-albumin and both pretreatment serum HBV-DNA levels and Δ-HBV-DNA. Conclusion: Our results demonstrated that albumin levels are associated with pretreatment HBV-DNA but not with alanine aminotransferase levels.
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