Background: Interferon α (IFN-α) and ribavirin can induce a sustained virologic response (SVR) in some but not all hepatitis C virus (HCV)-infected patients. The mechanism of effective treatment is unclear. One possibility is that IFN-α differentially improves the functional capacity of classic myeloid dendritic cells (mDCs) by altering expression of surface molecules or cytokines. Others have proposed that antigen-presenting cell activation could be paradoxically detrimental during HCV infection because of the production by monocytes of substances inhibitory or toxic to plasmacytoid dendritic cells.
Methods: We examined responses to in vitro IFN-α treatment of peripheral blood leukocyte samples from a retrospective treatment cohort of nearly 200 HCV-seropositive patients who had undergone antiviral therapy with ribavirin and pegylated IFN. We analyzed the variable responses of antigen-presenting cell subsets to drug.
Results: We found that patients achieving SVR were no more likely to have robust mDC activation in response to IFN-α than those who did not achieve SVR. Rather, patients achieving SVR were distinguished by restrained monocyte activation in the presence of IFN-α, a factor that was second in importance only to IL28B genotype in its association with SVR.
Conclusions: These results suggest that interindividual variability in the response of monocytes to IFN-α is an important determinant of treatment success with IFN-α-based regimens.
Keywords: Toll-like receptor 2; activation; dendritic cells; hepatitis C virus; interferon-α; monocytes; ribavirin; sustained virologic response; treatment.