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Enhanced high-mobility group box 1 (HMGB1) modulates regulatory T cells (Treg)/T helper 17 (Th17) balance via toll-like receptor (TLR)-4-interleukin (IL)-6 pathway in patients with chronic hepatitis B



High-mobility group box 1 (HMGB1) proteins are substantially up-regulated in acute and chronic hepatitis. However, the immunopathogenic role of HMGB1 in patients with chronic hepatitis B (CHB) has not been elucidated. In this study, using a cohort of 36 CHB patients, we demonstrated a crucial role for HMGB1 to modulate balance between regulatory T (Treg) and T helper 17 (Th17) cells via the toll-like receptor (TLR)-4-interleukin (IL)-6 pathway. Serum HMGB1 levels were dramatically higher in CHB patients and increased along with liver injury, inflammation and fibrosis. Notably, HMGB1 increased along with decreased Treg/Th17 cells ratios in the periphery or intrahepatic microenvironment, which provides a clue for HMGB1 to favour Th17 responses whereas inhibit Treg responses. For in vitro studies, serum pools were constructed with serum from CHB patients at an advanced stage, whereas peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) pools were constructed with cells from those at an early stage. CHB-serum significantly enhanced retinoic acid-related orphan receptor-γt (RORγt), whereas they inhibited forkhead box P3 (Foxp3) expression in CHB-PBMC, which could be reversed by blocking of HMGB1, TLR4, or IL-6. Besides, recombinant HMGB1 (rHMGB1) dose-dependently up-regulated RORγt whereas down-regulated Foxp3 expression in CHB-PBMC, and meanwhile, rHMGB1 enhanced TLR4 and IL-6 expression in CHB-PBMC. Moreover, the axis of HMGB1–TLR4-IL-6–Treg/Th17 required noncontact interactions between CD4 and non-CD4 cells. In addition, rHMGB1 down-regulated anti-inflammatory proteins on CD4+CD25+ cells whereas up-regulated pro-inflammatory cytokines in CD4+CD25 cells. In summary, enriched HMGB1 in CHB patients shifts Treg/Th17 balance to Th17 dominance via the TLR4-IL-6 pathway, which exacerbates liver injury and inflammation.

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