Detection and significance of cytotoxic cell subsets in biopsies of HCV-infected human livers

Arch Immunol Ther Exp (Warsz). 2014 Apr;62(2):153-60. doi: 10.1007/s00005-013-0258-6.


Chronic viral hepatitis C still remains the clinical challenge. Attempts of the immune system to cope with this infection are unsatisfactory. There is a conviction that the main site of interaction between virus (Hepatitis C virus, HCV) and immune system is in situ, i.e., in liver. Natural killer (NK) cells appeared relevant in the acute hepatitis. Less is known about the immune response in the chronic HCV infection. The aim of this study was to evaluate the prevalence of various cytotoxic cell subsets in chronic HCV+ liver tissue and to seek links between them and laboratory data of patients. Sections from paraffin blocks of liver biopsy tissues of HCV+ untreated patients were subjected to the reaction with antibodies vs. cytotoxic cell subsets and immunohistochemistry. Positive cells were searched in cellular infiltrates in portal areas and in liver parenchyma. They were classified on the “Yes” or “No” basis. Majority of liver biopsies exhibited cellular infiltrates in portal spaces and as single cells in liver parenchyma. Infiltrates consisted of CD8+ T cells, CD56+ NK ones, including CD158i+ and CD158b+. The latter were rarely seen. There were also granzyme B+ cells. The most abundant were NKG2D+ cells, much more common than NK CD56+ ones. It implied that NKG2D was also expressed on T cells. Prevalence of NKG2D+ cells correlated with high activity of liver enzymes such as alanine aminotransferase, aspartate aminotransferase and a greater histological severity of liver injury. NKG2D+ cells form the bulk of cells infiltrating HCV-infected human liver. Correlation of NKG2D+ cells with some laboratory parameters of patients suggests their role in hepatitis C pathogenesis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • B-Lymphocytes / immunology*
  • B-Lymphocytes / virology
  • Biopsy
  • CD8-Positive T-Lymphocytes / immunology*
  • CD8-Positive T-Lymphocytes / virology
  • Cell Movement
  • Cytotoxicity, Immunologic
  • Granzymes / metabolism
  • Hepacivirus / immunology*
  • Hepatitis C, Chronic / immunology*
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Killer Cells, Natural / immunology*
  • Killer Cells, Natural / virology
  • Liver / immunology*
  • Liver / virology
  • Lymphocyte Subsets / immunology*
  • Lymphocyte Subsets / virology
  • NK Cell Lectin-Like Receptor Subfamily K / metabolism


  • KLRK1 protein, human
  • NK Cell Lectin-Like Receptor Subfamily K
  • Granzymes