Background & aims: The cytokine pattern secreted by T cells at the site of viral replication may influence the final outcome of hepatitis B virus (HBV) and hepatitis C virus (HCV) infections. The aim of this study was to assess whether a cytokine imbalance oriented toward T helper (Th) 1 or Th2-type responses may play a role in chronic hepatitis B or C.
Methods: Production of interferon (IFN)-gamma, interleukin (IL)-4, and IL-5 by wide series of T-cell clones derived from the liver of 6 patients with chronic hepatitis B (291 clones) and 9 patients with chronic hepatitis C (260 clones) was studied. T-cell clones were generated by limiting dilution from freshly isolated mononuclear cells derived from liver tissue to give a reliable representation of the intrahepatic inflammatory infiltrates.
Results: The majority of liver-infiltrating T cells in chronic hepatitis C were Th1 cells able to secrete IFN-gamma but unable to secrete IL-4 or IL-5, whereas in hepatitis B, most CD4+ and CD8+ liver T cells were ThO-like cells able to produce not only IFN-gamma but also IL-4 and IL-5.
Conclusions: The different cytokine profiles of T cells within the liver in chronic HBV and HCV infections illustrate a different behavior of the local immune response in these two infections that may have pathogenetic implications.