Background & aims: The antiviral immune response against HCV by CD8+ T cells plays a central role in viral containment. In a large HCV genotype 1b outbreak in Ireland, HLA-B(∗)08 was identified as a risk allele for chronic infection and HLA-A(∗)03 and HLA-B(∗)27 were associated with higher clearance rates. Here we took advantage of a similar large common source HCV genotype 1b outbreak (East-German cohort) to determine the role of HLA class I alleles and the sequence of the infection source, in immunodominant CD8+ T cell epitopes for disease outcome.
Methods: HLA-type and IL28B genotype were determined in 216 patients with chronic and 95 with spontaneously resolved HCV infection. The viral sequence in immunodominant epitopes was determined in the infection source and in patients with chronic infection.
Results: In contrast to the Irish cohort, HLA-B(∗)08, HLA-A(∗)03 and HLA-B(∗)27 were neutral for disease outcome even when the cohort was stratified for the IL28B genotype. Sequence analysis of the immunodominant epitopes revealed that pre-existing substitutions in the infection source of both cohorts influenced the impact of the corresponding HLA-allele. The immunodominant epitopes presented by the "protective" alleles HLA-A(∗)03 and -B(∗)27 in the Irish cohort contained substitutions in the source virus of the East-German outbreak. Importantly, the pre-existing substitutions altered subsequent selection pressure and viral evolution in the East-German cohort.
Conclusions: This study highlights that subtle sequence differences in the infection source may have profound effects on the ability to clear HCV infection in the presence of particular HLA class I alleles.
Copyright © 2012 European Association for the Study of the Liver. Published by Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.