Background: Hepatitis delta is caused by infection with the hepatitis D virus (HDV) and is considered the most severe form of viral hepatitis. Treatment options for hepatitis delta are limited, with only 25% of patients responding to interferon (IFN)-alfa-based therapies. The role of the adaptive immune system in controlling HDV infection during spontaneous or treatment-induced viral clearance is not well understood.
Methods: We studied HDV-specific cytokine production of peripheral blood mononuclear cells stimulated with HDV peptide pools as well as serum cytokine levels in well-characterized patients with chronic HDV infection before and during pegylated-interferon-alfa±adefovir therapy.
Results: Hepatitis D virus-specific interleukin (IL)-2, IFN-γ-, interferon-inducible protein-10 and IL-10-responses were detectable in 53%, 35%, 65% and 6% of hepatitis delta patients. HDV-specific IFN-γ responses tended to be more common in patients with low HDV viral loads. HDV-specific cytokine responses declined during pegylated (PEG)-IFNa therapy and patterns of changes were associated with the treatment response. Serum cytokine levels also showed distinct changes during PEG-IFNa treatment.
Conclusion: We suggest that cellular HDV-specific immune responses contribute to the control of HDV infection and that cytokine responses may indicate response to type-I-IFN-based antiviral therapy of hepatitis delta.