Expression of the CXCR3 ligand I-TAC by hepatocytes in chronic hepatitis C and its correlation with hepatic inflammation



The factors that regulate lymphocyte traffic in chronic hepatitis C (CHC) are not completely defined. Interferon (IFN)-inducible T cell α chemoattractant (I-TAC) is a relatively new member of the CXCR3 chemokine ligand family that selectively recruits activated T cells to sites of inflammation. To determine if I-TAC plays a role in CHC, we investigated I-TAC expression in hepatitis C virus (HCV)-infected liver biopsy material. I-TAC messenger RNA (mRNA) levels were significantly increased in HCV-infected liver compared with normal liver, which correlated with both portal and lobular inflammation. I-TAC expression was localized to hepatocytes throughout the liver lobule, with those in close proximity to active areas of inflammation expressing the highest concentration of I-TAC. In vitro, I-TAC mRNA and protein expression was inducible in Huh-7 cells following either IFN-α or -γ stimulation and synergistically with tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-α. Furthermore, transfection of Huh-7 cells with either poly(I:C) or HCV RNA representing the HCV subgenomic replicon induced I-TAC mRNA expression. HCV replication was also found to modulate I-TAC expression, with stimulation of Huh-7 cells harboring either the HCV subgenomic or genomic replicon showing significantly increased synergistic effects compared with those previously seen in Huh-7 cells alone with IFN-γ and TNF-α. In conclusion, these results suggest I-TAC, one of the most potent chemoattractants for activated T cells, is produced by hepatocytes in the HCV-infected liver and plays an important role in T cell recruitment and ultimately the pathogenesis of CHC. (HEPATOLOGY 2004;39:1220–1229.)