Hepatitis C virus (HCV) recurrence with accelerated fibrosis following orthotopic liver transplantation (OLT) is a universal phenomenon. To evaluate mechanisms contributing to HCV induced allograft fibrosis/cirrhosis, we investigated HCV-specific CD4+Th17 cells and their induction in OLT recipients with recurrence utilizing 51 HCV+ OLT recipients, 15 healthy controls and 9 HCV- OLT recipients. Frequency of HCV specific CD4+ Tcells secreting IFN-γ, IL-17 and IL-10 was analyzed by ELISpot. Serum cytokines and chemokines were analyzed by LUMINEX. Recipients with recurrent HCV induced allograft inflammation and fibrosis/cirrhosis demonstrated a significant increase in frequency of HCV specific CD4+Th17 cells. Increased pro-inflammatory mediators (IL-17, IL-1β, IL-6, IL-8 and MCP-1), decreased IFN-γ, and increased IL-4, IL-5 and IL-10 levels were identified. OLT recipients with allograft inflammation and fibrosis/cirrhosis demonstrated increased frequency of Foxp3+ regulatory T cells (Tregs) that inhibited HCV specific CD4+Th1 but not Th17 cells. This suggests that recurrent HCV infection in OLT recipients induces an inflammatory milieu characterized by increased IL-6, IL-1β and decreased IFN-γ which facilitates induction of HCV specific CD4+Th17 cells. These cells are resistant to suppression by Tregs and may mediate an inflammatory cascade leading to cirrhosis in OLT recipients following HCV recurrence.
- T cell