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J Immunol. 1998 Feb 1;160(3):1479-88.

Liver-derived CTL in hepatitis C virus infection: breadth and specificity of responses in a cohort of persons with chronic infection.

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Infectious Diseases Unit, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston 02114, USA.


Hepatitis C virus (HCV)-specific CTL have been found within the inflammatory infiltrate of the liver of chronically infected individuals, but the breadth and specificity of the CTL response in relation to viral load are less well characterized. In this study, we analyzed the intrahepatic CTL response in liver biopsy specimens from 44 chronically infected subjects. Liver-infiltrating lymphocytes were expanded polyclonally in bulk cultures, and multiple clones were derived by limiting dilution. HCV-specific CTL responses directed at genotype 1a structural proteins were assessed in all subjects, and 22 subjects were tested more comprehensively using vectors expressing all structural and nonstructural HCV Ags. CTL responses were further characterized to determine the HLA restriction and optimal epitopes recognized. In those persons screened for recognition of all HCV Ags, HLA class I-restricted CTL were detected in 45%. Nineteen different CTL epitopes were identified, which were distributed throughout the genome; only one epitope was targeted by more than one person. In those persons with CTL responses, the breadth of response ranged from one to five epitopes. There was no correlation between the presence of a detectable CTL response and viral load. These results indicate considerable heterogeneity in detectable HCV-specific CTL responses in chronically infected persons. The mechanisms by which HCV persists during chronic infection remain to be clarified.

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