Detection of type 2-like T-helper cells in hepatitis C virus infection: Implications for hepatitis C virus chronicity



One striking clinical feature of hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection is that more than 50% of patients with acute hepatitis C will develop chronic infection. To investigate its possible mechanisms, we examined the activation of type 2-like T-helper (Th2-like) cells relating to the development of chronicity. Peripheral blood CD4+ T-cell proliferation and cytokine secretion in response to a panel of recombinant HCV antigens including core (C22), envelope 1 (E1), E2, nonstructural (NS) protein 4 (C100), fusion protein of NS3 and NS4 (C200), and NS5 were assayed in 17 patients with acute hepatitis C. All six patients with self-limited disease had a significant CD4+ T-cell proliferation to C22, E1, C100, C200, and NS5, running parallel with the antigen-stimulated secretion of interleukin (IL)-2 and interferon γ (IFN-γ), but not with interleukin (IL)-4 and IL-10, indicating predominant Th1 responses. Among the remaining 11 patients who developed chronicity, 6, 2, and 9 cases showed a specific CD4+ T-cell response to C22, C100, and C200, respectively, and the responses were significantly lower than those of cases with recovery in terms of stimulation index (SI) (P < .05) and of antigen-stimulated IL-2 and IFN-γ production. Importantly, IL-4 and IL-10 (Th2 responses) were detectable, and C22-specific Th2-like T-cell clones could be generated from patients with chronicity. The data suggested that activation of Th2 responses in acute hepatitis C patients may play a role in the development of chronicity.