Detailed information

Lamivudine (3TC) is an antiretroviral medication that reduces the amount of HIV in the body. Anti-HIV drugs such as lamivudine slow down or prevent damage to the immune system, and reduce the risk of developing AIDS-related illnesses. Lamivudine is also active against hepatitis B virus (HBV).

Lamivudine is a nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitor (NRTIs). This class of antiretroviral disrupts the activity of the HIV enzyme reverse transcriptase, which is needed to copy the genetic code of HIV into a form that can be inserted into human cells.

In 1996, lamivudine was licensed in Europe as a treatment for HIV when used in combination with other anti-HIV drugs. It was discovered by BioChem Pharma and is manufactured by ViiV Healthcare under the trade name Epivir. Numerous generic versions of lamivudine are available. 

Lamivudine is available as part of several co-formulations.

Lamivudine is co-formulated with zidovudine in one pill, known by the trade name Combivir from ViiV Healthcare. Each Combivir pill contains 150mg lamivudine and 300mg zidovudine. Generic versions of this co-formulation are also available. This combination is rarely prescribed nowadays.

A pill that combines 300mg zidovudine, 150mg lamivudine, and 300mg abacavir, known as Trizivir, is also available from ViiV Healthcare. It was approved in the United States in November 2000 and in the European Union in March 2001. This combination is rarely prescribed nowadays and is no longer recommended for use.

A fixed-dose combination that is suitable for once-daily dosing contains 300mg lamivudine with 600mg abacavir. It is marketed as Kivexa in Europe and as Epzicom in the United States. Generic versions are now available. See abacavir/lamivudine for further details.

Lamivudine is also co-formulated with abacavir and dolutegravir in the fixed-dose combination Triumeq. See Triumeq for further details.

Lamivudine is also co-formulated with dolutegravir in the fixed-dose combination Dovato and with doravirine and tenofovir disoproxil fumarate (TDF) in the fixed-dose combination Delstrigo.

Lamivudine is also approved as a treatment for HBV. In the European Union it is known by the trade name Zeffix and in the United States as Epivir-HBV.


Lamivudine reduces HIV viral load and increase CD4 cell counts in the majority of people when taken in combination with at least two other antiretroviral drugs. (Maggiolo) It is effective against HIV-1 and HIV-2 and some evidence indicates that lamivudine can penetrate the central nervous system where it is active against HIV.

Lamivudine is given in combination with other antiretrovirals. Lamivudine was first licensed before protease inhibitors and NNRTIs were developed. Its licence was granted after clinical studies showed that it reduced disease progression, AIDS, and death by 66% when added to zidovudine monotherapy in both zidovudine-experienced and zidovudine-naive patients. (Eron) (Kuritzkes) (Katlama) (Staszewski)

Lamivudine products licensed for HBV contain a sub-therapeutic dose for treating HIV infection. Unless a child with HIV/HBV co-infection requires a lamivudine 100mg dose for treating HIV, these drugs are not interchangeable.

Taking it

Lamivudine can be taken once or twice daily. Once-daily dosing involves taking one 300mg tablet, and twice-daily dosing involves taking two 150mg tablets 12 hours apart. Lamivudine can be taken either with food or on an empty stomach. Once-daily dosing of lamivudine produces the same effects in the body as twice-daily dosing, and it is safe to switch between these regimens.

An oral solution of lamivudine is available at a concentration of 10mg/ml.

See Dovato, Delstrigo, Triumeq, and abacavir/lamivudine for details of how to take lamivudine when co-formulated with other drugs.

Side effects

Lamivudine  is generally a safe drug, with fewer side effects than other nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NRTIs). Its most common side effects are headache, fatigue, and nausea which generally subside over time. Other side effects include decreased appetite, diarrhoea, skin rash, and abdominal pain. Nausea and diarrhoea can be controlled with other medicines, which can be prescribed before starting lamivudine. Lamivudine's side effects are most likely to occur during the early weeks of treatment.

In people with HIV/HBV co-infection, discontinuation of lamivudine may result in a flare-up of hepatitis B infection. Careful monitoring of these individuals is advised.

Less common side effects of lamivudine are pancreatitis (usually in advanced disease), peripheral neuropathy, anaemia, decreased neutrophil count, increased liver enzymes, fat redistribution, neutropenia (low white blood cell counts) and rash. There have also been reports of hair loss, severe anaemia and lactic acidosis (a serious increase in levels of lactic acid in the blood) among people receiving lamivudine.


HIV can rapidly develop resistance to lamivudine if viral load is not suppressed below the limit of detection. This is likely to occur due to poor adherence, or if a patient takes a treatment interruption, due to the slow rate of decline of lamivudine levels within cells. (Morales-Lopetegi) (Tremblay) Resistance to lamivudine seems to develop at the same rate in people taking the drug once or twice a day. (Vavro)



A drug-resistant HIV strain is one which is less susceptible to the effects of one or more anti-HIV drugs because of an accumulation of HIV mutations in its genotype. Resistance can be the result of a poor adherence to treatment or of transmission of an already resistant virus.

hepatitis B virus (HBV)

The hepatitis B virus can be spread through sexual contact, sharing of contaminated needles and syringes, needlestick injuries and during childbirth. Hepatitis B infection may be either short-lived and rapidly cleared in less than six months by the immune system (acute infection) or lifelong (chronic). The infection can lead to serious illnesses such as cirrhosis and liver cancer. A vaccine is available to prevent the infection.

nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitor (NRTI)

In a process called reverse transcription, HIV copies its genetic material from RNA to DNA before inserting the proviral DNA in the host cell genome. Nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors insert a nucleoside into the proviral DNA of HIV, terminating the chain of proviral DNA and preventing the incorporation of proviral DNA into the genome of a host cell. NRTIs (also known as ‘nukes’) include abacavir, emtricitabine, lamivudine and zidovudine.


A single change in gene sequence. Some HIV mutations cause the virus to become resistant to certain antiretroviral (ARV) drugs.

antiretroviral (ARV)

A substance that acts against retroviruses such as HIV. There are several classes of antiretrovirals, which are defined by what step of viral replication they target: nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors; non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors; protease inhibitors; entry inhibitors; integrase (strand transfer) inhibitors.

The primary mutation associated with lamivudine resistance occurs at codon 184 of the reverse transcriptase enzyme, called M184V or M184I. (Boucher) Drug resistance generally increases the risk of treatment failure and disease progression, but the presence of the M184V mutation appears to decrease viral fitness by reducing its ability to replicate and increasing susceptibility to other nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NRTIs).

This is demonstrated by the fact that viral load may increase by a small amount when people with this mutation stop taking lamivudine, indicating that the drug had an antiviral effect despite resistance. (Campbell) (Wei) The presence of M184V also seems to prevent or delay emergence of thymidine-associated mutations. (Kuritzkes) Other mutations that cause low-level resistance to lamivudine include K65R and amino acid insertions at codon 69.

There is considerable cross-resistance amongst the NRTIs, meaning that once an individual develops resistance to one NRTI, the effectiveness of the other NRTIs will be diminished. Virus with the M184V/I mutation is also cross-resistant to emtricitabine (Emtriva) and abacavir (Ziagen). However, resistance to some of the other NRTIs is unlikely to cause high-level resistance to lamivudine, and vice versa.

Drug interactions

Drugs that are eliminated in the same way as lamivudine may interact with lamivudine. These drugs include trimethoprim, an antibiotic which is included in cotrimoxazole. Consequently, levels of lamivudine may be increased by 40% when it is taken together with cotrimoxazole tablets for Pneumocystis pneumonia (PCP) prophylaxis or toxoplasmosis treatment, although no dose adjustments are necessary.

Lamivudine should not be taken with intravenous foscarnet or ganciclovir .

Lamivudine should not be used in combination with emtricitabine.


Lamivudine  is approved for use by children aged between three months and 12 years of age at a dose of 4mg/kg twice daily, to a maximum dose of 300mg per day. Once-daily lamivudine dosing is approved for children over 14kg in weight. It is available as a solution or tablet. Scored tablets can be split according to weight.

In the US lamivudine can be used in infants under 30 days of age, dosed twice daily at 2mg/kg.

It was licensed for children following demonstration that adding lamivudine to zidovudine, didanosine or a combination of zidovudine and didanosine resulted in CD4 cell count increases and reductions in viral load, and a lowered risk of disease progression and death. (McKinney) (Pediatric European Network for Treatment of AIDS) (Bergshoeff)

Lamivudine should be used with caution in children with a history or risk of pancreatitis. Any patient with creatinine clearance of less than 50ml/minute or impaired hepatic function should not use products containing lamivudine. Other side effects are similar to those found in adults.

Formulations of lamivudine licensed for HBV are not sufficient for children who have HIV and hepatitis B co-infection, unless the child requires a 100mg lamivudine dose.


Lamivudine has been widely used in antiretroviral therapy in pregnant women and there is no evidence that it is linked to an increased risk of adverse foetal or pregnancy outcomes. (Vannappagari)

Hepatitis B treatment

Lamivudine is licensed as a treatment for hepatitis B but should not be used as the sole agent active against hepatitis B in an antiretroviral combination due to the risk of lamivudine-resistant hepatitis B. Lamivudine should be combined with tenofovir in people with hepatitis B co-infection. If lamivudine is discontinued, at least one agent active against hepatitis B should be retained in the regimen to avoid the risk of a hepatitis B flare-up.


Maggiolo F et al. Virological and immunological responses to a once-a-day antiretroviral regimen with didanosine, lamivudine and efavirenz. Antiviral Therapy, 6: 249-253, 2001.

Eron JJ et al. Treatment with lamivudine, zidovudine, or both in HIV-positive patients with 200 to 500 CD4+ cells per cubic millimeter. New England Journal of Medicine, 333: 1662-1669, 1995.

Kuritzkes DR et al. Drug resistance and virologic response in NUCA 3001, a randomised trial of lamivudine (3TC) versus zidovudine (ZDV) versus ZDV plus 3TC in previously untreated patients. AIDS, 10: 975-981, 1996.

Katlama C et al. Safety and efficacy of lamivudine-zidovudine combination therapy in zidovudine-naive patients. A randomized controlled comparison with zidovudine monotherapy. Lamivudine European Working Group. JAMA, 276: 118-125, 1996.

Staszewski S et al. Safety and efficacy of lamivudine-zidovudine combination therapy in zidovudine-experienced patients. A randomized controlled comparison with zidovudine monotherapy. Lamivudine European HIV Working Group. JAMA, 276: 111-117, 1996.

Morales-Lopetegi K et al. Selection of M184V mutation during repetitive cycles of structured antiretroviral treatment interruptions. Antiviral Therapy, 6: S28, 2001.

Tremblay C et al. HIV evolution during repeated supervised treatment interruptions following early antiretroviral treatment of acute infection. Antiviral Therapy, 6: 17, 2001.

Vavro C et al. Genotypic analysis of HIV-1 from subjects experiencing virologic breakthrough while taking 3TC QD vs 3TC BID, EFV and ZDV. 42nd Interscience Conference on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy, San Diego, abstract H-2052, 2002.

Boucher CA et al. High-level resistance to (-) enantiomeric 2'-deoxy-3'-thiacytidine in vitro is due to one amino acid substitution in the catalytic site of human immunodeficiency virus type 1 reverse transcriptase. Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy, 37: 2231-2234, 1993.

Campbell TB et al. Antiviral activity of lamivudine in salvage therapy for multidrug-resistant HIV-1 infection. Clinical Infectious Diseases, 41: 236-242, 2005.

Wei X et al. The M184V mutation in HIV-1 reverse transcriptase reduces the restoration of wild-type replication by attenuated viruses. AIDS, 16: 2391-2398, 2002.

McKinney RE et al. A randomized study of combined zidovudine-lamivudine versus didanosine monotherapy in children with symptomatic therapy-naive HIV-1 infection. Journal of Pediatriacs, 133: 500-508, 1998.

Pediatric European Network for Treatment of AIDS A randomized double-blind trial of the addition of lamivudine or matching placebo to current nucleoside analogue reverse transcriptase inhibitor therapy in HIV-infected children: the PENTA-4 trial. AIDS, 12: F151-F160, 1998.

Bergshoeff A et al. Plasma pharmacokinetics of once- versus twice-daily lamivudine and abacavir: simplification of combination treatment in HIV-1-infected children (PENTA-13). Antiviral Therapy, 10: 239-246, 2005.

Vannappagari V et al. Abacavir and lamivudine exposures during pregnancy and non-defect adverse pregnancy outcomes: data from the antiretroviral pregnancy registry. Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes, 68: 359-364, 2015.

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