Background/aims: Graft re-infection invariably occurs after liver transplantation (OLT) for chronic hepatitis C and disease progression is unpredictable. We prospectively examined peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) subsets and natural killer (NK) cell receptors (NKRs) in patients with recurrent hepatitis C post-OLT.
Methods: PBMC were obtained at baseline and at different time points after OLT. NKRs were identified using monoclonal antibodies by flow cytometry.
Results: The proportions of NK, natural T (NT), total and gammadelta T cells were significantly reduced (p<0.01) 7 days post-transplant, probably as a result of graft repopulation. NKG2D+ NK cells were significantly higher compared with healthy controls (p<0.01), declined post-OLT and subsequently returned to baseline values. This, together with a progressive increase in the proportion of CD94/NKG2C+ NK cells over time (p< or = 0.01), appeared to be related to hepatitis C recurrence. There was a statistically significant correlation between expression of the natural cytotoxicity receptors (NCRs) and ALT (p<0.05), supporting the hypothesis that NK cells participate in the necroinflammatory process.
Conclusions: The data are compatible with homing of immune cells to the liver allograft after surgery, most of which return to pre-OLT levels. HCV recurrence may cause variations in selected NKRs expression akin to other viral infections.