Background: Recent studies have focused on regulatory T cells (Tregs) in chronic hepatitis B (CHB) and hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) and they were also conducted independently of each other.
Aims: This study tried to characterize Tregs in blood and tumour infiltration, and to explore the correlations between Tregs and the context of chronic hepatitis B in HCC patients.
Methods: The liver-resident Tregs and CD8(+) T cells on core biopsy were investigated using immunohistochemistry staining in individuals (n = 209) with CHB (n = 47), HCC (n = 137) or healthy controls (n = 25). Circulating Tregs were detected in the above patients with CHB (n = 27) or HCC (n = 101) by flow cytometry.
Results: The number of tumour-infiltrating and circulating FoxP3(+) Tregs was significantly high in patients with CHB (P < 0.001). However, there were fewer intratumoural Tregs in patients with advanced HCC than those in patients with early stage HCC (P = 0.043); In contrast, the circulating Tregs frequency increased during the progression of HCC (P = 0.024). Increased tumour-infiltrating and circulating FoxP3(+) Tregs were associated with poor overall survival (P = 0.041, 0.002 respectively) and a shorter time to recurrence (P = 0.049, 0.002 respectively) in patients with early stage HCC. Tumour-infiltrating Foxp3 + Tregs were related to chronic hepatitis B natural history in HCC (P = 0.012). Neither tumour-infiltrating CD8(+) T cells nor balance of intratumoural Tregs and CD8(+) T cells correlated with prognosis of HCC.
Conclusions: Increased Foxp3(+) Tregs may represent a prognostic predictor in patients with early stage HCC. The CHB natural history influenced density of tumour-infiltrating Tregs in hepatocellular carcinoma patients with chronic hepatitis B viruses infection.
© 2011 John Wiley & Sons A/S.