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J Virol. 2001 Feb;75(3):1229-35.

Detection of diverse hepatitis C virus (HCV)-specific cytotoxic T lymphocytes in peripheral blood of infected persons by screening for responses to all translated proteins of HCV.

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Partners AIDS Research Center, Infectious Disease Division, Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts, USA.


Broadly directed hepatitis C virus (HCV)-specific cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTL) have been identified from liver-infiltrating lymphocytes but have been more difficult to assess in peripheral blood of infected persons. To enhance the detection of CTL from peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC), we cocultured PBMC with autologous Epstein-Barr virus-transformed B-lymphoblastoid cell lines that had been infected with recombinant vaccinia virus constructs so that they expressed the entire translated polyprotein of HCV-H, a type 1a strain. These stimulated cells from HCV-infected as well as exposed seronegative persons were then cloned at limiting dilution and tested for HCV-specific CTL activity using a standard (51)Cr release assay. HCV-specific CTL were detected in PBMC from seven of nine persons with chronic hepatitis, including five of seven in whom CTL had previously been detected from liver biopsy specimens but not PBMC. In a single person with chronic HCV infection, CTL directed against as many as five different epitopes were detected in peripheral blood and were similar in specificity to those detected in liver tissue. This technique was used to evaluate eight subjects identified to be at high risk for HCV exposure due to continued injection drug abuse; no evidence of CTL in PBMC was found. We conclude that CTL can be detected in PBMC from the majority of persons with chronic HCV infection but are present at lower levels or absent in exposed but persistently seronegative persons. The high degree of concordance of HCV epitopes identified from liver and PBMC suggests that this strategy is a reasonable alternative to liver biopsy for characterizing the CTL response to HCV in chronically infected persons.

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