Peripheral blood dendritic cells are phenotypically and functionally intact in chronic hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection


W. O. Böcher, Department of Internal Medicine, Johannes-Gutenberg University, Mainz 55131, Germany.


Persistence of hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection is associated with reduced anti-viral T cell responses. Impaired dendritic cell (DC) function was suggested as the cause of reduced T cell stimulation in chronic HBV carriers. Thus, we compared myeloid (mDC) and plasmacytoid DC (pDC) from chronic HBV carriers and controls. Frequency and phenotype of isolated DC were analysed by fluorescence activated cell sorter staining, DC function by mixed lymphocyte reaction, cytokine bead array, intracellular cytokine staining, enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay and enzyme-linked immunospot. Expression of HBV DNA and mRNA was studied by polymerase chain reaction (PCR). Circulating total DC, mDC or pDC were not reduced in chronic HBV carriers. Isolated mDC and pDC from chronic HBV carriers exhibited similar expression of co-stimulatory molecules and alloreactive T helper cell stimulation as control DC, whether tested directly ex vivo or after in vitro maturation. Secretion of pro- and anti-inflammatory cytokines by CD40 or Toll-like receptor ligand-stimulated patient DC was intact, as was human leucocyte antigen A2-restricted HBV-specific cytotoxic lymphocyte stimulation. Although both DC populations contained viral DNA, viral mRNA was undetectable by reverse transcription–PCR, arguing against viral replication in DC. We found no quantitative, phenotypic or functional impairment of mDC or pDC in chronic hepatitis B, whether studied ex vivo or after in vitro maturation.