Frequencies of Circulating MAIT Cells Are Diminished in Chronic HCV, HIV and HCV/HIV Co-Infection and Do Not Recover during Therapy
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Objective Mucosal-associated invariant T (MAIT) cells comprise a subpopulation of T cells that can be activated by bacterial products and cytokines to produce IFN-gamma Since little is known on MAIT cells during HCV infection, we compared their phenotype and function in comparison to HIV and HCV/HIV co-infected patients, and determined the effect of IFN-alpha-based and direct-acting antiviral therapy on MAIT cells of HCV patients. Methods Blood samples from patients with chronic HCV (CHCV), virologically suppressed HIV, acute HCV/HIV co-infection (AHCV/HIV) and healthy individuals were examined by flowcytometry for phenotype and function of MAIT and NK cells. Results and Conclusions Compared to healthy individuals, the frequency of CD161(+)V alpha 7.2(+) MAIT cells was significantly decreased in patients with CHCV, HIV and AHCV/HIV co-infection. CD38 expression on MAIT cells was increased in AHCV/HIV patients. MAIT cells were responsive to IFN-alpha in vitro as evidenced by enhanced frequencies of IFN-gamma producing cells. IFN-alpha-based therapy for CHCV decreased the frequency of IFN-gamma(+) MAIT cells, which was still observed 24 weeks after successful therapy. Importantly, even after successful IFN-alpha-based as well as IFN-alpha-free therapy for CHCV, decreased frequencies of MAIT cells persisted. We show that the frequencies of MAIT cells are reduced in blood of patients with CHCV, HIV and in AHCV/HIV co-infection compared to healthy individuals. Successful therapy for CHCV did not normalize MAIT cell frequencies at 24 weeks follow up. The impact of HIV and HCV infection on the numbers and function of MAIT cells warrant further studies on the impact of viral infections and the antimicrobial function of MAIT cells.