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J Hepatol. 2002 Jul;37(1):101-8.

Decrease in hepatic CD56(+) T cells and V alpha 24(+) natural killer T cells in chronic hepatitis C viral infection.

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Education and Research Centre, St. Vincent's University Hospital, Elm Park, Dublin 4, Ireland.



The intrahepatic immune system is likely to play a key role in determining the outcome of hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection. The hepatic lymphocyte repertoire is characterised by high CD8/CD4 T cell ratios and large numbers of gamma delta T cells, natural killer (NK) cells, NK T cells and NK receptor-positive T cells. It is not known which of these populations contribute to immunity against HCV or immune pathology.


To explore the relative contributions of lymphocyte subpopulations, we have compared the intrahepatic lymphocyte repertoires and cytokine expression in 13 patients with mild chronic hepatitis C infection, 14 with end-stage hepatitis C cirrhosis and five histologically normal livers by flow cytometry and immunohistochemistry.


CD4(+) T cells bearing alpha beta T cell receptors (TCR) were significantly expanded in livers with chronic HCV infection while CD56(+) alpha beta T cells and V alpha 24 TCR-positive T cells were significantly depleted. Expanded CD4(+)T cells were predominantly Th1 cells, producing interferon-gamma but not interleukin-4.


Failure to resolve HCV infection may be due to deficient innate and/or memory immune responses, while Th1 cells may mediate immune pathology.

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