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J Exp Med. 2013 Jan 14;210(1):99-114. doi: 10.1084/jem.20121172. Epub 2012 Dec 17.

Up-regulation of a death receptor renders antiviral T cells susceptible to NK cell-mediated deletion.

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Division of Infection and Immunity and Centre for Sexual Health and HIV Research, University College London, London NW3 2PF, UK.


Antiviral T cell responses in hepatotropic viral infections such as hepatitis B virus (HBV) are profoundly diminished and prone to apoptotic deletion. In this study, we investigate whether the large population of activated NK cells in the human liver contributes to this process. We show that in vitro removal of NK cells augments circulating CD8(+) T cell responses directed against HBV, but not against well-controlled viruses, in patients with chronic hepatitis B (CHB). We find that NK cells can rapidly eliminate HBV-specific T cells in a contact-dependent manner. CD8(+) T cells in the liver microcirculation are visualized making intimate contact with NK cells, which are the main intrahepatic lymphocytes expressing TNF-related apoptosis-inducing ligand (TRAIL) in CHB. High-level expression of the TRAIL death receptor TRAIL-R2 is found to be a hallmark of T cells exposed to the milieu of the HBV-infected liver in patients with active disease. Up-regulation of TRAIL-R2 renders T cells susceptible to caspase-8-mediated apoptosis, from which they can be partially rescued by blockade of this death receptor pathway. Our findings demonstrate that NK cells can negatively regulate antiviral immunity in chronic HBV infection and illustrate a novel mechanism of T cell tolerance in the human liver.

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