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IFN-α therapy on HBV-specific T-cell responses in HBeAg-negative genotype D

Peginterferon-α does not improve early peripheral blood HBV-specific T-cell responses in HBeAg-negative chronic hepatitis.

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.
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.
Ex vivo IFN-γ production by total HBV-specific T-cells was significantly greater before therapy in patients who showed HBV DNA <50IU/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.
IFN-α did not improve peripheral blood HBV-specific T-cell responses in the first 24weeks of treatment, consistent either with a predominant antiviral/antiproliferative 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.

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