Intrahepatic CD8 T-lymphocytes and HBV core expression in relation to response to antiviral therapy for chronic hepatitis B patients



Recognition of HBV-infected hepatocytes by CD8 T-lymphocytes is important for viral clearance. Expression of hepatitis B core antigen (HBcAg) in HBV-infected hepatocytes can trigger this antiviral T-cell response. The intrahepatic CD8 T-lymphocytes and HBcAg expression were investigated in relation to response to antiviral therapy. Forty chronic HBeAg-positive patients treated with either lamivudine (n = 20) or interferon-alpha (n = 20) were investigated. Ten patients from each treatment group exhibited a response. Liver biopsies were carried out before and after therapy. CD8 T-lymphocytes and HBcAg expression were detected by immunohistochemistry. The number of pretreatment intrahepatic CD8 T-lymphocytes was significantly higher in responders (P = 0.008). In responders baseline nuclear HBcAg expression tended to be lower (P = 0.09). Cytoplasmic expression was not significantly different between responders and non-responders (P = 0.46). The number of CD8 T-lymphocytes correlated with cytoplasmic HBcAg (rs = 0.31; P = 0.04); CD8 T-lymphocytes were situated in clusters of hepatocytes with cytoplasmic HBcAg. Longitudinal analysis showed a significant reduction of CD8 T-lymphocytes after treatment in responders (P < 0.001). Multivariate analysis revealed pretreatment CD8 T-lymphocytes and age as independent prognostic factors for response (n = 40). The number of pretreatment CD8 T-lymphocytes was the only independent prognostic indicator for response to interferon-alpha (P = 0.03); it was of borderline significance for lamivudine therapy (P = 0.06). It is concluded that the number of pretreatment intrahepatic CD8 T-lymphocytes is an important predictor of response to HBV therapy with either interferon-alpha or lamivudine. Response to therapy led to a significant reduction of intrahepatic CD8 T-lymphocytes. Co-localisation of CD8 T-lymphocytes and HBcAg-positive hepatocytes suggests antiviral activity predominantly at the site of maximum HBV replication. J. Med. Virol. 72:215–222, 2004. © 2004 Wiley-Liss, Inc.