T cell mechanisms in the immunopathogenesis of viral hepatitis B and C


Dr Sun-Lung Tsai, Liver Research Unit, Chang Gung Memorial Hospital, 199 North Tung Hwa Road, Taipei, Taiwan.


Considerable evidence suggests that immune mechanisms are involved in the pathogenesis of both hepatitis B and C. Both CD4+ and CD8+ T cell responses to viral antigens are important mechanisms that may be responsible for the hepatocyte damage in hepatitis B and C. CD4+ T cell proliferative responses to hepatitis B core antigen (HBcAg) in terms of stimulation index are correlated with hepatitis activity. These responses can be demonstrated in both adult and paediatric patients, and are more vigorous in patients with acute self-limited hepatitis B than in patients with chronic hepatitis B. Patients with hepatitis C also had a significant CD4+ T cell response to hepatitis C virus (HCV) antigens. These responses are also vigorous in acute hepatitis C with recovery than in those cases that evolve to chronic hepatitis C. In terms of human leucocyte antigen (HLA) class I-restricted, CD8+ cytotoxic T lymphocyte (CTL) response, antigenic peptides derived from HBcAg, hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg), and polymerase have been demonstrated as the targets for CTL recognition in hepatitis B patients. Multiple CTL epitopes within both HBsAg and HBcAg can be detected by sensitizing target cells with synthetic peptides. Similar to hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection, multi-specific, HCV-specific CTL responses can coexist with an extensive quasispecies of viral variants. The mechanisms of viral persistence in both hepatitis B and C are not yet clarified.