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To examine changes in HIV-1 susceptibility (genotype and phenotype) during an initial abacavir monotherapy phase followed by the addition of zidovudine and lamivudine.Sixty HIV-1 infected, antiretroviral therapy-na]ve subjects were randomized to receive 100, 300 or 600 mg abacavir twice daily. Subjects completing 24 weeks of randomized therapy or meeting a protocol defined switch criterion could switch to open label abacavir/zidovudine/lamivudine.Plasma HIV-1 reverse transcriptase was genotyped at baseline, week 12, and at the last time point on ABC monotherapy. Drug susceptibility was analysed at baseline and on subsequent samples with sufficient HIV-1 RNA levels using the recombinant virus assay. Virological responses (week 24) were correlated to week 24 genotypes.Mutant viruses were not detected before week 12 with the exception of one subject. At the latest time point on abacavir monotherapy (range, weeks 6–48), 21 out of 43 subjects harboured virus with resistance conferring mutations including single, double and triple combinations of K65R, L74V, Y115F and M184V. The most common mutational pattern was L74V + M184V (11/21 cases). Twenty of the 21 subjects with isolates containing abacavir-associated mutations reached week 48, and upon addition of lamivudine/zidovudiine, 16 out of 20 (80%) had week 48 plasma HIV-1-RNA below 400 copies/ml. At week 48, 16 out of 46 genotypes were obtained; one of these was wild-type; 15 contained M184V either alone, in combination with K65R and/or L74V and/or Y115F or with thymidine analogue-associated mutations. Week 48 viral load levels for these 15 subjects was low (median 3.43 log10 copies/ml or −1.99 log10 copies reduction from baseline). Genotype correlated well with phenotypic resistance to ABC; four samples with three abacavir-associated mutations had high level abacavir resistance (> 8-fold) and six samples with two or three mutations showed intermediate (4–8-fold) resistance. All samples with single mutations retained full ABC susceptibility.Resistance conferring mutations to abacavir were relatively slow to develop during the monotherapy phase, and did not preclude durable efficacy of abacavir/lamivudine/zidovudine up to 48 weeks.