•  dendritic cells;
  • antigen presentation;
  • chronic hepatitis B;
  • viral persistence interleukin-12


Insufficient stimulatory capacities of autologous dendritic cells (DC) may contribute in part to impaired T cell stimulation and therefore viral persistence in patients with chronic hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection. In order to characterize the antigen presenting functions of DC from chronic HBV carriers and controls antigen specific T cell responses were analysed. CD34+ peripheral blood progenitor cells were differentiated to immature DC in the presence of GM-CSF, IL-6/IL-6R fusion protein and stem cell factor. Proliferative CD4+ T cell responses and specific cytokine release were analysed in co-cultures of DC pulsed with HBV surface and core antigens or tetanus toxoid and autologous CD4+ T cells. Cultured under identical conditions DC from chronic HBV carriers, individuals with acute resolved hepatitis B and healthy controls expressed similar phenotypical markers but chronic HBV carriers showed less frequent and weaker HBV antigen specific proliferative T helper cell responses and secreted less interferon-γ while responses to the tetanus toxoid control antigen was not affected. Preincubation with recombinant IL-12 enhanced the HBV specific immune reactivities in chronic HBV patients and controls. In conclusion, the weak antiviral immune responses observed in chronic hepatitis B may result in part from insufficient T cell stimulating capacities of DC. Immunostimulation by IL-12 restored the HBV antigen specific T cell responses and could have some therapeutical benefit to overcome viral persistence.