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Abstract

Dendritic cells (DC) are crucially involved in the induction of immune responses; however, reports on DC functions in chronic hepatitis C are controversial. Function of DC includes proper cell trafficking between sites of infection and lympho-cellular compartments. Thus, we analyzed DC compartmentalization and changes in DC migration in hepatitis C virus (HCV)-infected patients. We found significantly lower numbers of circulating BDCA1+ and BDCA2+ DC in HCV(+) patients (n = 20) than in healthy controls (n = 12) (P < .05). Analyzing liver samples from HCV(+) patients (n = 15), HCV(−) controls (n = 15), and disease controls (n = 10), we demonstrated chronic hepatitis C to be associated with intrahepatic DC enrichment (P < .05). In vitro studies indicated that HCV E2-induced secretion of RANTES efficiently attracts CCR5(+) immature DC. Incubation of DC with sera derived from HCV(+) patients made DC unresponsive to CCL21, the chemokine recruiting DC to lymphoid tissues for T cell priming. Unlike attraction of CCR5+ DCs via RANTES, direct inhibition of DC migration in response to CCL21 was specific for patients with chronic hepatitis C and could be attributed to interaction of HCV E2 with CD81 on DC. In conclusion, migration of DC is markedly affected by interaction of HCV E2 with CD81. Failure of DC to recirculate to lymphoid tissue may be critically involved in impaired T cell priming during HCV infection. (HEPATOLOGY 2006;44:945–954.)