Single-cell RNA sequencing of liver fine-needle aspirates captures immune diversity in the blood and liver in chronic hepatitis B patients

Hepatology. 2023 Nov 1;78(5):1525-1541. doi: 10.1097/HEP.0000000000000438. Epub 2023 May 10.


Background and aims: HBV infection is restricted to the liver, where it drives exhaustion of virus-specific T and B cells and pathogenesis through dysregulation of intrahepatic immunity. Our understanding of liver-specific events related to viral control and liver damage has relied almost solely on animal models, and we lack useable peripheral biomarkers to quantify intrahepatic immune activation beyond cytokine measurement. Our objective was to overcome the practical obstacles of liver sampling using fine-needle aspiration and develop an optimized workflow to comprehensively compare the blood and liver compartments within patients with chronic hepatitis B using single-cell RNA sequencing.

Approach and results: We developed a workflow that enabled multi-site international studies and centralized single-cell RNA sequencing. Blood and liver fine-needle aspirations were collected, and cellular and molecular captures were compared between the Seq-Well S 3 picowell-based and the 10× Chromium reverse-emulsion droplet-based single-cell RNA sequencing technologies. Both technologies captured the cellular diversity of the liver, but Seq-Well S 3 effectively captured neutrophils, which were absent in the 10× dataset. CD8 T cells and neutrophils displayed distinct transcriptional profiles between blood and liver. In addition, liver fine-needle aspirations captured a heterogeneous liver macrophage population. Comparison between untreated patients with chronic hepatitis B and patients treated with nucleoside analogs showed that myeloid cells were highly sensitive to environmental changes while lymphocytes displayed minimal differences.

Conclusions: The ability to electively sample and intensively profile the immune landscape of the liver, and generate high-resolution data, will enable multi-site clinical studies to identify biomarkers for intrahepatic immune activity in HBV and beyond.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biomarkers
  • Biopsy, Fine-Needle
  • CD8-Positive T-Lymphocytes
  • Hepatitis B virus / genetics
  • Hepatitis B, Chronic* / drug therapy
  • Humans
  • Liver / pathology
  • Sequence Analysis, RNA


  • Biomarkers