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Keywords:

  • hepatitis B viruses;
  • hepatocellular carcinoma;
  • prognosis;
  • regulatory T cells

Abstract

Background

Recent studies have focused on regulatory T cells (Tregs) in chronic hepatitis B (CHB) and hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) and they were also conducted independently of each other.

Aims

This study tried to characterize Tregs in blood and tumour infiltration, and to explore the correlations between Tregs and the context of chronic hepatitis B in HCC patients.

Methods

The liver-resident Tregs and CD8+ T cells on core biopsy were investigated using immunohistochemistry staining in individuals (n = 209) with CHB (n = 47), HCC (n = 137) or healthy controls (n = 25). Circulating Tregs were detected in the above patients with CHB (n = 27) or HCC (n = 101) by flow cytometry.

Results

The number of tumour-infiltrating and circulating FoxP3+ Tregs was significantly high in patients with CHB (< 0.001). However, there were fewer intratumoural Tregs in patients with advanced HCC than those in patients with early stage HCC (= 0.043); In contrast, the circulating Tregs frequency increased during the progression of HCC (= 0.024). Increased tumour-infiltrating and circulating FoxP3+ Tregs were associated with poor overall survival (= 0.041, 0.002 respectively) and a shorter time to recurrence (= 0.049, 0.002 respectively) in patients with early stage HCC. Tumour-infiltrating Foxp3 +  Tregs were related to chronic hepatitis B natural history in HCC (P = 0.012). Neither tumour-infiltrating CD8+ T cells nor balance of intratumoural Tregs and CD8+ T cells correlated with prognosis of HCC.

Conclusions

Increased Foxp3+ Tregs may represent a prognostic predictor in patients with early stage HCC. The CHB natural history influenced density of tumour-infiltrating Tregs in hepatocellular carcinoma patients with chronic hepatitis B viruses infection.