Background and aims: Hepatitis B virus (HBV) recurrence after orthotopic liver transplantation is associated with inflammatory graft changes, despite immunosuppression and donor/recipient HLA mismatch. We investigated whether immune mechanisms are involved in the pathogenesis of hepatitis B after liver transplantation.
Methods: The virus-specific T helper (Th) cell response, activation of Th1/Th2 subpopulations, donor/recipient HLA, and expression of tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-alpha/TNF receptors were determined in 28 patients who underwent transplantation for HBV-related cirrhosis (17 with HBV recurrence and 11 without recurrence) in comparison to 30 nontransplant patients with chronic hepatitis B.
Results: Orthotopic liver transplantation recipients with HBV recurrence showed significant hepatitis B core antigen-specific T-cell proliferation, comparable to nontransplant patients, which was not present in transplant recipients without recurrence. In addition, hepatic and serum interleukin (IL)-2, interferon-gamma, and TNF-alpha were enhanced, without changes in IL-4 and IL-10. Phenotypically, hepatic infiltrates in allografts with HBV recurrence were comprised of CD4+ lymphocytes and macrophages with a correlation between interferon-gamma- and TNF-alpha-producing cells and the degree of necroinflammatory activity. There was a marked up-regulation of both TNF-alpha receptors, significantly greater than in nontransplant patients.
Conclusions: These findings suggest that despite immunosuppression, HLA class I-independent immune mechanisms have a significant pathogenic role in liver damage associated with HBV recurrence after liver transplantation.