Source Laboratory of Viral Immunopathology, Unit of Infectious Diseases and Hepatology, Azienda Ospedaliero-Universitaria di Parma, Parma, Italy.
BACKGROUND-AIMS: The effect of IFN-α therapy on HBV-specific T-cell responses in HBeAg-negative, genotype D, chronic hepatitis B is largely undefined. Understanding to what extent IFN-α can modulate HBV-specific T-cells is important to define strategies to optimize IFN efficacy and to identify immunological parameters to predict response to therapy.
METHODS: HBV-specific T-cell responses were analyzed longitudinally ex-vivo and after expansion in-vitro in 15 patients with genotype D, HBeAg-negative chronic hepatitis B treated with peginterferon-α-2a. HBV proteins and synthetic peptides were used to stimulate T-cell responses. Analysis of the CD4 and CD8 T-cell functions was performed by ELISPOT, intracellular cytokine and tetramer staining. The effect of anti-PD-L1 on T-cell functions was also analyzed.
RESULTS: Ex-vivo IFN-γ production by total HBV-specific T-cells was significantly greater before therapy in patients who showed HBV-DNA < 50 IU/ml at weeks 24 and/or 48 of therapy. No significant improvement of T-cell proliferation, Th1 cytokine production and cytotoxicity was observed during IFN therapy by both ex-vivo and in-vitro analysis. PD-1/PD-L1 blockade showed a modest improvement of cytokine production in a total of 15% of T-cell lines.
CONCLUSION: IFN-α did not improve peripheral blood HBV-specific T-cell responses in the first 24 weeks of treatment, consistent either with a predominant anti-viral/anti-proliferative effect or with an immunomodulatory activity on other arms of the immune system which were not analyzed in our study. A better pre-treatment ex-vivo IFN-γ production was associated with better chances to control HBV replication during therapy and represents a promising predictor of IFN efficacy.