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Eur J Immunol. 2004 Feb;34(2):438-46.

Subversion of effector CD8+ T cell differentiation in acute hepatitis C virus infection: the role of the virus.

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Fondazione Andrea Cesalpino and Dipartimento di Medicina Interna, Università degli Studi di Roma La Sapienza, Rome, Italy.


In a companion study, we showed a dichotomy between the expansion of central memory (CCR7(+)) hepatitis C virus (HCV)-specific CTL and the incomplete memory effector differentiation in patients with acute HCV infection. Indeed, effector cells were unable to perform immediate functions, despite expressing the tissue-homing phenotype of effector memory cells (CCR7(-); semi-effectors). However, since they promptly differentiated into full-effectors upon IL-2 contact, we suggested that the inhibitory effect by environmental (possibly viral) factors on IL-2 production may have a pivotal role in generating the large population of semi-effector CCR7(-)/IFN-gamma(-) CTL. In accord with this view, we report here strong evidence in support of circulating HCVcore protein (HCVcore) playing a central role in inhibiting effector CTL differentiation, but not memory CTL expansion. The regulatory HCVcore effect is related to inhibition of the signal transduction pathway instrumental for IL-2 production, supporting the evidence that IL-2 was capable both of pushing semi-effector CTL to complete their effector cell program and of restoring the HCVcore-dependent inhibitory effect. Therefore, the strength of CTL activation is dependent on the balance between the threshold of stimulatory signals and the viral interference capacities provided during priming.

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