Drugs for preventing hepatitis B recurrence after liver transplantation

Chronic hepatitis B is a very common infectious disease leading to chronic liver disease, affecting around 350 million people all over the world. Liver transplantation is often the only viable treatment option. Recurrence of hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection in the liver graft is one of the grave complications of liver transplantation, and to prevent it, hepatitis B immunoglobulin (HBIg) seem associated with improved survival. HBIg and/or antiviral drugs are given alone or in combination after liver transplantation. We attempted to identify the optimal preventive treatment option.

We found only four randomised clinical trials that compared different prophylactic regimens in 136 participants. None of the trials compared the same prophylaxis regimen. In each individual trial no significant differences were detected with regard to patients' survival after transplantation, HBV recurrence, or the recurrence of liver disease. All trials were too small to detect a difference, if it existed.

Prevention of HBV recurrence following liver transplantation is currently non-evidence based. Practice is to administer a combination of HBIg and an antiviral drug. Randomised clinical trials are needed to examine this practice.

Authors' conclusions: 

This review could not derive clear evidence from randomised clinical trials for the treatment of patients with chronic HBV following liver transplantation for preventing recurrence of HBV infection. Large randomised clinical trials comparing long-term combination treatment to each of the monotherapy alone, including the newer antiviral drugs, are needed.

Read the full abstract...

Recurrence of hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection in the liver graft is a grave complication following liver transplantation for HBV cirrhosis. Hepatitis B immunoglobulin (HBIg) seems effective in increasing survival after liver transplantation. HBIg and anti-viral drugs are given alone or in combination for its prevention.


To assess the benefits and harms of different regimens for preventing HBV reactivation following liver transplantation.

Search strategy: 

We searched The Cochrane Hepato-Biliary Group Controlled Trials Register, The Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL) in The Cochrane Library, MEDLINE, EMBASE, and Science Citation Index Expanded until February 2010. We attempted to identify further trials by reviewing the reference lists and contacting the principal authors of identified trials.

Selection criteria: 

Randomised clinical trials addressing benefits and harms of lamivudine or adefovir dipivoxil alone or in combination with hepatitis B immunoglobulins (HBIg) for preventing recurrent HBV infection in patients who are liver transplanted due to HBV infection with or without hepatocellular carcinoma.

Data collection and analysis: 

Two authors independently assessed the trials for risk of bias and extracted data. We contacted study authors whenever information was lacking. We collected information on adverse events. The primary outcomes were all-cause mortality and reappearance of hepatitis B surface antigen in serum after liver transplantation. Relative risks were calculated from individual trials.

Main results: 

Four trials, recruiting 136 participants, were included. Two trials compared lamivudine alone versus HBIg alone. Randomisation was performed one week after transplantation in one of the trials and after six months after transplantation in another; from transplantation until randomisation, HBIg alone was given to all patients in the two trials. A third trial compared combination treatment with lamivudine and HBIg versus lamivudine alone after one month of combination treatment, and a fourth trial compared the combination of lamivudine and HBIg versus a combination of lamivudine and adefovir dipivoxil after at least 12-month of lamivudine and HBIg combination treatment. Statistically significant differences were not detected in any of the comparisons and outcomes. All trials were open-labelled, and none of the trials were adequately powered to show a difference in HBV recurrence. No meta-analyses were performed since the identified trials assessed different comparisons.