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Gastroenterology. 2012 Dec;143(6):1586-1596.e8. doi: 10.1053/j.gastro.2012.08.046. Epub 2012 Sep 6.

Altered functions of plasmacytoid dendritic cells and reduced cytolytic activity of natural killer cells in patients with chronic HBV infection.

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R&D Laboratory, EFS Rhone-Alpes, La Tronche, France.



Hepatitis B virus (HBV) modulates the immune system to escape clearance. Plasmacytoid dendritic cells (pDCs) initiate antiviral immunity and might determine outcomes of HBV infections. Functional defects in pDCs and natural killer (NK) cells have been reported in patients with chronic HBV infection. However, the mechanisms of these immune dysfunctions and the interactions between pDCs and NK cells have not been determined. We investigated features of pDCs from patients with chronic HBV infection and their interactions with NK cells.


We used flow cytometry and cytokine assays to analyze pDCs from patients with chronic HBV infection (118 aviremic and 67 viremic) and compared them with pDCs from uninfected individuals (controls). We performed coculture assays to analyze the ability of pDCs to activate heterologous NK cells.


Circulating and hepatic pDCs from patients with chronic HBV infection had higher levels of activation than pDCs from controls and defective responses to stimulation with Toll-like receptor 9 ligand (TLR9-L), regardless of the patient's viral load. TLR9-L-activated pDCs from viremic patients with HBV did not induce cytolytic activity of NK cells. This altered function of pDCs was associated with reduced expression of OX40L and could be reproduced by incubating control pDCs with plasma from viremic patients with HBV. A high level of interferon-induced protein 10 (IP-10 or CXCL10) and hepatitis B surface and e antigens might induce these defective pDC functions.


HBV escapes antiviral immunity by altering pDC functions, to disrupt interactions between pDC and NK cells. This could reduce immune control of HBV and lead to chronic infection.

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