CD8+ T lymphocyte responses are induced during acute hepatitis C virus infection but are not sustained.
Lechner F., Gruener NH., Urbani S., Uggeri J., Santantonio T., Kammer AR., Cerny A., Phillips R., Ferrari C., Pape GR., Klenerman P.
Cellular immune responses are likely to play a key role in determining the clinical outcome in acute infection with hepatitis C virus (HCV), but the dynamics of such responses and their relationship to viral clearance are poorly understood. In a previous study we have shown highly activated, multispecific cytotoxic T lymphocyte responses arising early and persisting in an individual who subsequently cleared the virus. In this study the HCV-specific CD8+ lymphocytes response has been similarly analyzed, using peptide-HLA class I tetramers, in a further nine individuals with documented acute HCV infection, six of whom failed to clear the virus. Significant populations of virus-specific CD8+ lymphocytes were detected at the peak of acute hepatic illness (maximally 3.5% of CD8+ lymphocytes). Frequencies were commonly lower than those seen previously and were generally not sustained. Early HCV-specific CD8+ lymphocytes showed an activated phenotype in all patients (CD38+ and HLA class II+), but this activation was short-lived. Failure to sustain sufficient numbers of activated virus-specific CD8+ lymphocytes may contribute to persistence of HCV.