In this study, we describe a method to reliably characterize intrahepatic leukocyte populations using flow cytometry and next-generation RNA sequencing on fresh human liver biopsies. Over the last decades, immune responses of viral hepatitis patients, and of other liver diseases, have been incompletely characterized. Most studies include peripheral blood samples only, foregoing the possibility to investigate the site of inflammation directly. Here, we show that with an optimized protocol that combines cell sorting and RNA sequencing, we can perform a side by side comparison of both intrahepatic and peripheral immune cells. Using core liver biopsies from chronic hepatitis B virus patients, we show that the expression levels of IFN-stimulated genes and leukocyte-specific genes are markedly different in the liver compartment as compared to the peripheral blood. These observations emphasize the need to sample the liver directly. The variation of gene expression profiles in these chronic hepatitis B patients was considerable, despite the uniform treatment with nucleotide analogs and absence of liver inflammation in these patients. Finally, we show that this method can provide a detailed characterization of previously undetected liver-specific effects of novel candidate therapeutic compounds.

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Journal of Leukocyte Biology
Department of Gastroenterology & Hepatology

Boeijen, L., van Oord, G., Hou, J., van der Heide-Mulder, M., Gaggar, A., Li, L. (Li), … Boonstra, A. (2018). Gene expression profiling of human tissue-resident immune cells. Journal of Leukocyte Biology, 105(3), 603–608. doi:10.1002/JLB.6AB0718-278R