Following infection with the hepatitis C virus (HCV), in most cases immunity fails to eradicate the virus, resulting in slowly progressing immunopathology in the HCV-infected liver. We are the first to examine intrahepatic T cells and CD4+CD25+FoxP3+regulatory T cells (Treg) in patients chronically infected with HCV (chronic HCV patients) during and after antiviral therapy by collecting multiple aspiration biopsy samples from the liver at different time points. We found that intrahepatic Treg frequencies were increased upon alpha interferon and ribavirin administration in about 50% of chronic HCV patients, suggesting stronger regulation of intrahepatic immunity by Treg during antiviral therapy. After cessation of antiviral therapy, the frequency of intrahepatic Treg remained above baseline in the large majority of livers of individuals who successfully cleared the virus. The phenotype of those Treg that were retained in the liver months after therapy-induced clearance of HCV RNA indicated a reduced contribution of effector memory cells. Our findings, gathered by multiple samplings of the liver, indicate that successful antiviral therapy of chronic HCV patients does not lead to normalization of the local immune response to a resting state comparable to that for healthy livers. The continuous presence of high numbers of Treg, with a phenotype reflecting a relatively weak suppressive activity, suggests ongoing residual regulation of immunopathology. These findings provide important insight into the dynamics of the immune response to HCV, as well as the effect of therapy on intrahepatic immunity.

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Journal Journal of Virology
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Claassen, M.A.A, de Knegt, R.J, Janssen, H.L.A, & Boonstra, P.A. (2011). Retention of CD4+ CD25+ FoxP3+ regulatory T cells in the liver after therapy-induced hepatitis C virus eradication in humans. Journal of Virology, 85(11), 5323–5330. doi:10.1128/JVI.02551-10