A novel L-nucleoside analog of deoxycytidine, 2',3'-dideoxy-2', 3'-didehydro-beta-L-5-fluorocytidine (beta-L-Fd4C), was recently shown to strongly inhibit hepatitis B virus (HBV) replication in the 2.2.15 cell line. Therefore, its antiviral activity was evaluated in the duck HBV (DHBV) infection model. Using a cell-free system for the expression of the DHBV polymerase, beta-L-Fd4C-TP exhibited a concentration-dependent inhibition of dCTP incorporation into viral minus-strand DNA with a 50% inhibitory concentration of 0.2 microM which was lower than that of other tested deoxycytidine analogs, i.e. , lamivudine-TP, ddC-TP, and beta-L-FddC-TP. Further analysis showed that beta-L-Fd4C-TP is likely to be a competitive inhibitor of dCTP incorporation and to cause premature DNA chain termination. In primary duck hepatocyte cultures infected in vitro, beta-L-Fd4C administration exhibited a long-lasting inhibitory effect on viral DNA synthesis but could not clear viral covalently closed circular DNA (CCC DNA). Results of short-term antiviral treatment in experimentally infected ducklings showed that beta-L-Fd4C exhibited the most potent antiviral effect, followed by beta-L-FddC, lamivudine, and ddC. Longer administration of beta-L-Fd4C induced a sustained suppression of viremia (>95% of controls) and of viral DNA synthesis within the liver. However, the persistence of trace amounts of viral CCC DNA detected only by PCR was associated with a recurrence of viral replication after drug withdrawal. In parallel, beta-L-Fd4C treatment suppressed viral antigen expression within the liver and decreased intrahepatic inflammation and was not associated with any sign of toxicity. Our data, therefore, demonstrate that in the duck model of HBV infection, beta-L-Fd4C is a potent inhibitor of DHBV reverse transcriptase activity in vitro and suppresses viral replication in the liver in vivo.