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Hepatology. 2012 Apr;55(4):1130-8. doi: 10.1002/hep.24807.

Cytomegalovirus-specific T-cell reactivity in biliary atresia at the time of diagnosis is associated with deficits in regulatory T cells.

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Division of Allergy & Clinical Immunology, University of Colorado Denver School of Medicine, Aurora, CO 80045, USA.


Biliary atresia (BA) is a progressive, inflammatory cholangiopathy that culminates in fibrosis of extrahepatic and intrahepatic bile ducts. A leading theory on the pathogenesis of BA is that the bile duct damage is initiated by a virus infection, followed by a bile duct-targeted autoimmune response. One mechanism of autoimmunity entails a diminished number or function of regulatory T cells (Tregs). The aim of this study was to identify potential virus-specific liver T cells from infants with BA at the time of diagnosis, implicating the virus involved in early bile duct damage. A subaim was to determine if the presence of virus infection was associated with quantitative changes in Tregs. Liver T cells from BA and control patients were cultured with antigen-presenting cells in the presence of a variety of viral or control proteins. 56% of BA patients had significant increases in interferon-gamma-producing liver T cells in response to cytomegalovirus (CMV), compared with minimal BA responses to other viruses or the control group CMV response. In addition, a positive correlation between BA plasma CMV immunoglobulin M (IgM) and liver T-cell CMV reactivity was identified. Investigation of peripheral blood Tregs revealed significant deficits in Treg frequencies in BA compared with controls, with marked deficits in those BA patients who were positive for CMV.


Liver T-cell responses to CMV were identified in the majority of BA patients at diagnosis, suggesting perinatal CMV infection as a plausible initiator of bile duct damage. Deficiency of Tregs in BA implies decreased inhibition of inflammation and autoreactivity, potentially allowing for exaggerated bile duct injury.

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