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J Clin Invest. 1997 Jun 15;99(12):3025-33.

Interleukin-12 induction of Th1 cytokines is important for viral clearance in chronic hepatitis B.

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Institute of Liver Studies, King's College School of Medicine & Dentistry, London SE5 9PJ, UK.


Interleukin-12, a cytokine with an important role against intracellular pathogens, promotes Th1 cell development, cellmediated cytotoxicity, and interferon-gamma production. We investigated the immunoregulatory role of IL-12 in 72 chronic hepatitis B virus (HBV) carriers, 33 of whom were monitored longitudinally during interferon-alpha treatment. Serum levels of IL-12 heterodimer, IL-12 p40 subunit, IL-4, and Th1 cytokines were determined by specific ELISAs, and hepatitis B core antigen-specific T cell response by a proliferation assay. Chronic HBV carriers had higher serum levels of IL-12 and IL-12 p40 in comparison with controls (P < 0.01), suggesting that IL-12 production is not impaired. The longitudinal analysis revealed a further substantial increase (> 2.5x baseline level) of bioactive IL-12 and Th1 cytokines in patients who cleared HBV and seroconverted to anti- hepatitis B e, unlike the 23 nonresponders with persistent HBV replication (P < 0.01). The IL-12 peak followed the peak of hepatocytolysis by 9.8+/-2.8 wk and occurred either before or simultaneously with hepatitis B e seroconversion. Hepatitis B core antigen-specific T cell proliferation closely correlated with hepatocytolysis and increased significantly in all patients (8 responders and 15 nonresponders) who developed hepatitis flare, irrespective of the virological outcome. These results provide in vivo evidence that IL-12 may have an important role for viral clearance in chronic HBV infection.

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