Source Department of Pathology, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, CT, 06510, USA; Center for Infectious Diseases, Tangdu Hospital, Fourth Military Medical University, Xi'an, Shaanxi Province, 710038, China.
BACKGROUND & AIMS: T-helper (Th)17 cells that secrete interleukin (IL)-22 have immunomodulatory and protective properties in the liver and other tissues. IL-22 induces expression of proinflammatory genes, but is also mitogenic and anti-apoptotic in hepatocytes. Therefore, it could have multiple functions in the immune response to hepatitis B virus (HBV).
METHODS: We examined the role of IL-22 in regulating liver inflammation in HBV transgenic mice and measured levels of IL-22 in HBV-infected patients.
RESULTS: In HBV transgenic mice, injection of a single dose of IL-22 increased hepatic expression of proinflammatory genes, but did not directly inhibit virus replication. When splenocytes from HBV-immunized mice were transferred into HBV transgenic mice, the severity of the subsequent liver damage was ameliorated by neutralization of IL-22. In this model, IL-22 depletion did not affect interferon-γ- mediated noncytopathic inhibition of virus replication initiated by HBV-specific cytotoxic T cells, but it significantly inhibited recruitment of antigen-non-specific inflammatory cells into the liver. In patients with acute HBV infections, the percentage of Th17 cells in peripheral blood and concentration of IL-22 in serum were significantly increased.
CONCLUSION: IL-22 appears to be an important mediator of the inflammatory response following recognition of HBV by T cells in the liver. These findings might be relevant to the development of cytokine-based therapies for patients with HBV infection.