Characteristics of splenic CD8+ T cell exhaustion in patients with hepatitis C


Correspondence: S. Shimoda, Department of Medicine and Biosystemic Science, Graduate School of Medical Science, Kyushu University, 3-1-1 Maidashi, Higashi-ku, Fukuoka 812-8582, Japan.



There is increasing interest in the role of T cell exhaustion and it is well known that the natural history of chronic hepatitis C virus infection (HCV) is modulated by CD8+ T cell immunobiology. There are many pathways that alter the presence of exhaustive T cells and, in particular, they are functionally impaired by inhibitory receptors, such as programmed death-1 (PD-1) and T cell immunoglobulin and mucin domain-containing protein 3 (Tim-3). We obtained spleen, liver and peripheral blood (before and after splenectomy) lymphoid cells from 25 patients with HCV-related cirrhosis undergoing liver transplantation for end-stage disease or splenectomy for portal hypertension. In all samples we performed an extensive phenotypic study of exhaustion markers [PD-1, Tim-3, interferon (IFN)-γ) and their ligands (PD-L1, PD-L2, galectin-9] in CD8+ T cell subpopulations (both total and HCV-specific) and in antigen-presenting cells (APC; monocytes and dendritic cells). In the spleen, total and HCV-specific CD8+ T cells demonstrated enhanced markers of exhaustion, predominantly in the effector memory subpopulation. Similarly, splenic APC over-expressed inhibitory receptor ligands when compared to peripheral blood. Finally, when peripheral blood CD8+ T cells were compared before and after splenectomy, markers of exhaustion were reduced in splenic CD8+ T cells and APC. Our data in HCV-related cirrhosis suggest that CD8+ T cells in the spleen manifest a significantly higher exhaustion compared to peripheral blood and may thus contribute to the failure to control HCV. Counteracting this process may contribute to inducing an effective immune response to HCV.