Abundant numbers of regulatory T cells localize to the liver of chronic hepatitis C infected patients and limit the extent of fibrosis

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Background & Aims: Weak hepatitis C virus (HCV) specific immunity in peripheral blood has been shown to be partially controlled by regulatory T cells (Treg). However, little is known about Treg present in livers of HCV-infected patients, their association with clinical parameters, and immunopathology resulting in disease progression. Methods:The frequency and phenotype of CD4+FoxP3+ Treg, conventional CD4+ T cells, and the distribution of lymphocytes and leukocytes were studied by multi-color flowcytometry in liver and peripheral blood of 43 chronic HCV patients at different phases of liver disease. Comparisons between healthy blood and liver and correlations with disease parameters were made. Results: An extensive lymphocyte infiltration containing abundant numbers of CD4+FoxP3+ Treg was present in HCV-infected livers, while absent from healthy liver. Moreover, in all patients, intrahepatic CD4+FoxP3+ Treg showed a fully differentiated and highly activated phenotype on the basis of the surface markers CD45RO, CCR7, CTLA-4 and HLA-DR. These Treg were more numerous in those HCV-infected livers showing only limited fibrosis. However, HCV RNA loads or alanine transaminase levels did not correlate with CD4+FoxP3+ Treg frequencies. Conclusions: Our data demonstrate that large numbers of highly activated and differentiated CD4+FoxP3+ Treg localize to the infiltrated chronic HCV-infected liver and may result in limiting the extent of fibrosis. This suggests that CD4+FoxP3+ Treg play a pivotal role in limiting collateral damage by suppressing excessive HCV-induced immune activation. (C) 2009 European Association for the Study of the Liver. Published by Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
Original languageUndefined/Unknown
Pages (from-to)315-321
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Hepatology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2010

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