An excess of coinhibitory signals has been proposed to drive the T-cell exhaustion characteristic of persistent viral infections. In this study we examined the contribution of the coinhibitory receptor cytotoxic T lymphocyte antigen-4 (CTLA-4) to CD8 T cell tolerance in chronic hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection (CHB). CD8 T cells in patients with CHB have an increased propensity to express the coinhibitory receptor CTLA-4 and this correlates with viral load. CTLA-4 is up-regulated on those HBV-specific CD8 T cells with the highest levels of the proapoptotic protein Bim, which we have previously shown mediates their premature attrition; abrogation of CTLA-4-mediated coinhibition can reduce Bim expression. Longitudinal study of CHB patients beginning antiviral therapy reveals that HBV DNA suppression induces transient reconstitution of HBV-specific CD8 T cells but does not reprogram their CTLA-4(hi) Bim(hi) tolerogenic phenotype. Blocking CTLA-4 is able to increase the expansion of interferon gamma (IFN-γ)-producing HBV-specific CD8 T cells in both the peripheral and intrahepatic compartments. The rescue of anti-HBV responses by either CTLA-4 or PD-L1 blockade is nonredundant.
Conclusion: CTLA-4 is expressed by HBV-specific CD8 T cells with high levels of Bim and helps to drive this proapoptotic phenotype. CTLA-4 blockade could form one arm of a therapeutic approach to modulate the diverse patterns of coregulation of T-cell exhaustion in this heterogeneous disease.
Copyright © 2011 American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases.