Multiple inhibitory receptors may play a role in the weak or absent CD8+ T-cell response in chronic hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection. Yet few receptors have been characterized in detail and little is known about their complex regulation. In the present study, we investigated the role of the signaling lymphocyte activation molecule (SLAM)-related receptor CD244 and of programmed death 1 (PD-1) in HBV infection in 15 acutely and 66 chronically infected patients as well as 9 resolvers and 21 healthy controls. The expression of CD244, PD-1, and T-cell immunoglobulin domain and mucin domain 3 (TIM-3) was analyzed in virus-specific CD8+ T-cells derived from peripheral blood or liver using major histocompatibility complex class I pentamers targeting immunodominant epitopes of HBV, Epstein-Barr-virus (EBV), or influenza virus (Flu). In chronic HBV infection, virus-specific CD8+ T-cells expressed higher levels of CD244 both in the peripheral blood and liver in comparison to the acute phase of infection or following resolution. CD244 was expressed at similarly high levels in EBV infection, but was low on Flu-specific CD8+ T-cells. In chronic HBV infection, high-level CD244 expression coincided with an increased expression of PD-1. The inhibition of the CD244 signaling pathway by antibodies directed against either CD244 or its ligand CD48 resulted in an increased virus-specific proliferation and cytotoxicity as measured by the expression of CD107a, interferon-γ, and tumor necrosis factor-α in CD8+ T-cells.
Conclusion: CD244 and PD-1 are highly coexpressed on virus-specific CD8+ T-cells in chronic HBV infection and blocking CD244 or its ligand CD48 may restore T-cell function independent of the PD-1 pathway. CD244 may thus be another potential target for immunotherapy in chronic viral infections.
Copyright © 2010 American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases.