Background and Aims
CD4+CD25+Foxp3+ T-regulatory (Treg) cells control immune responses and maintain immune homeostasis. However, under inflammatory conditions, Treg cells produce cytokines that promote inflammation. We investigated production of tumor necrosis factor (TNF) by Treg cells in patients with acute hepatitis A (AHA), and examined the characteristics of these cells and association with clinical factors.
We analyzed blood samples collected from 63 patients with AHA at the time of hospitalization (and some at later time points) and 19 healthy donors in South Korea. Liver tissues were collected from patients with fulminant AHA during liver transplantation. Peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) were isolated from whole blood and lymphocytes were isolated from liver tissues and analyzed by flow cytometry. Cytokine production from Treg cells (CD4+CD25+Foxp3+) was measured by immunofluorescence levels following stimulation with anti-CD3 and anti-CD28. Epigenetic stability of Treg cells was determined based on DNA methylation patters. Phenotypes of Treg cells were analyzed by flow cytometry, and an RORγt inhibitor, ML-209 was used to inhibit TNF production. Treg cell suppression assay was performed by co-culture of Treg-depleted PBMCs and isolated Treg cells.
A higher proportion of CD4+CD25+Foxp3+ Treg cells from patients with AHA, compared with controls, produced TNF upon stimulation with anti-CD3 and anti-CD28 (11.2% vs 2.8%). DNA methylation analysis confirmed the identity of the Treg cells. TNF-producing Treg cells had features of T-helper 17 cells, including upregulation of RORγt, which was required for TNF production. The Treg cells had reduced suppressive functions compared to Treg cells from controls. The frequency of TNF-producing Treg cells in AHA patients’ blood correlated with their serum level of alanine aminotransferase.
Treg cells from patients with AHA have altered functions, compared with Treg cells from healthy individuals. Treg cells from patients with AHA produce higher levels of TNF, gain features of T-helper 17 cells, and have reduced suppressive activity. The presence of these cells is associated with severe liver injury in patients with AHA.
Key words : hepatitis A virus infection; ALT; liver injury; inflammation