Background/aims: Lamivudine therapy in patients with chronic hepatitis B can induce the recovery of antiviral T cell responses. It is unknown whether the recovery of T cell responsiveness is long-lasting and persists throughout the treatment and whether the elevation of viremia which follows therapy withdrawal can restore a condition of T cell unresponsiveness.
Methods: Frequency and function of circulating hepatitis B virus (HBV)-specific CD4 and CD8 cells from 12 hepatitis e surface antigen + patients with chronic hepatitis B were studied longitudinally before, during and after lamivudine therapy by intracellular cytokine staining, proliferation and cytotoxicity assays against HBV proteins and peptides. CD4-mediated responses were analyzed in all patients, whereas CD8 cells were studied in 6 HLA-A2+ patients.
Results: HBV-specific CD4 and CD8 reactivity showed a bi-phasic behavior under lamivudine therapy with an early enhancement of T cell frequency and intensity of responses followed by a persistent decline starting from the 5th to 6th month of treatment.
Conclusions: Since restoration of HBV-specific T cell reactivity is only transient, our study indicates that therapeutic stimulation of HBV-specific T cell responses to complement lamivudine treatment should be done early after the initiation of lamivudine. Moreover, the transient nature of the immune reconstitution may represent a favorable condition for virus reactivation once lamivudine therapy is withdrawn.