The phenotype of hepatitis B virus–specific T cells differ in the liver and blood in chronic hepatitis B virus infection


  • Potential conflict of interest: Dr. Locarnini is a consultant for and owns stock in Pharmasset. He is also a consultant for Evivar Pty., Ltd., Innogenetics, Melbourne Health, Gilead, Bristol-Myers Squibb, and LG Sciences.


Hepatitis B virus (HBV)-specific T cells play a key role in clearance of the virus and in the pathogenesis of liver disease. Peripheral blood (n = 25) and liver biopsies (n = 19) were collected from individuals with chronic untreated HBV infection. Whole blood, cultured peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs), and cultured liver-infiltrating lymphocytes (LILs) were each stimulated with an overlapping peptide library to the whole HBV genome. The expression of T helper 1 (Th1) cytokines [interferon gamma (IFN-γ), tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-α), and interleukin 2 (IL-2)] and interleukin 10 (IL-10) was analyzed by intracellular cytokine staining and flow cytometry. In ex vivo whole blood, more lymphocytes produced Th1 cytokines than IL-10. When comparing cultured LILs with cultured PBMCs, we found a significantly higher magnitude of CD8+ T cells from the liver producing IL-10 (P = 0.044), primarily in hepatitis B e antigen positive (HBeAg+) individuals. A positive correlation resulted between the magnitude of HBV-specific TNF-α+ CD4+ T cells in the liver and the degree of liver inflammation and fibrosis (P = 0.002 and P = 0.006, respectively). Conclusion: The differences in cytokine production from HBV-specific T cells in blood and liver may explain the capacity for HBV to persist in the absence of significant hepatic destruction and highlights the balance between cytokine-mediated viral control and liver damage. (HEPATOLOGY 2007.)