The negative regulators in the interferon (IFN) signaling pathway inhibit intrahepatic immune response, resulting in suboptimal therapeutic response to IFNα treatment in chronic hepatitis B (CHB) patients. Identifying the key negative factors and elucidating the regulating mechanism are essential for improving anti-HBV (hepatitis B virus) efficacy of IFNα. From the Gene Expression Omnibus (GEO) database, we downloaded and analyzed gene expression profiles of CHB patients with different responses to IFNα (GSE54747), and found that innate immune status was associated with the IFNα-based therapeutic response in CHB patients. Through PCR array, we found higher baseline level of IFN-induced transmembrane protein 2 (IFITM2) mRNA and lower baseline level of IFNα mRNA in peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) of CHB patients with suboptimal response to IFNα treatment. Increased IFITM2 protein was also found in the serum of IFNα nonresponsive patients. With further experiments, we found that overexpressing IFITM2 in Huh7 cells suppressed endogenous IFNα synthesis by inhibiting phosphorylation of extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK), TANK-binding kinase 1 (TBK1), and interferon regulatory factor 3 (IRF3); knocking out IFITM2 enhanced activation of the endogenous IFNα synthesis pathway, exhibiting better inhibition on HBV replication. We also found that IFITM2 protein was shuttled by exosomes to dendritic cells (DCs), the main source of endogenous IFNα. Exosome-mediated transport of IFITM2 inhibited synthesis of endogenous IFNα in DCs whereas the inhibitory effect was abolished when IFITM2 was knocked out. Furthermore, we demonstrated that both palmitoylation inhibitor and mutation on 70/71 sites of IFITM2 protein influenced its incorporation into exosomes. Mutated IFITM2 protein increased the effect of IFNα against HBV. Conclusion: Exosome-mediated transport of IFITM2 to DCs inhibits IFNα pathway activation and blocks anti-HBV efficacy of exogenous IFNα. The findings provide an explanation to the suboptimal response of CHB patients to IFNα treatment.
© 2019 The Authors. Hepatology published by Wiley Periodicals, Inc., on behalf of American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases.