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Hepatology. 2003 May;37(5):1189-98.

Detection of functionally altered hepatitis C virus-specific CD4 T cells in acute and chronic hepatitis C.

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Institute for Immunology, University of Munich, Germany.


Chronic hepatitis C is characterized by a weak or absent hepatitis C virus (HCV)-specific CD4(+) T-cell response in terms of antigen-specific proliferation or interferon gamma (IFN-gamma) secretion. To clarify whether this is due to the absence or functional impairment of antigen-specific CD4(+) T cells we developed an assay that relies on the induced expression of the T-cell activation marker CD25 and is therefore independent from cytokine secretion or proliferation. In 10 of 20 patients with chronic hepatitis C, a significant number of antigen-specific activated CD4(+) T cells (mean 1.06%/patient; range, 0% to 5.2% of CD4(+) T cells) could be shown, whereas antigen-specific proliferation was present in only 1 of 20 patients. IFN-gamma secretion was absent in all 13 patients tested. However, significant antigen-specific interleukin 10 (IL-10) and transforming growth factor beta (TGF-beta) secretion was present in 6 of 10 and 3 of 10 patients, respectively. In 8 patients with acute hepatitis C, irrespective of disease outcome, HCV-specific CD4(+) T cells were detected in all patients and at a significantly higher frequency (mean 3.7%/patient; range, 1.16% to 7.17%) in the first weeks of disease. A chronic course of disease was associated either with a loss of both IFN-gamma secretion and proliferation, resembling an anergic state, or a loss of T-cell proliferation followed by a rapid decline in IFN-gamma-producing cells, corresponding to exhaustion of the specific immune response. In conclusion, functional changes of HCV-specific CD4(+) T cells or failure to develop a long-lasting T-helper response may contribute to chronic hepatitis C viral persistence.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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