Life, activation and death of intrahepatic lymphocytes in chronic hepatitis C.
Valiante NM., D'Andrea A., Crotta S., Lechner F., Klenerman P., Nuti S., Wack A., Abrignani S.
The healthy liver of adult humans has little or no lymphocyte component and the histological finding of intrahepatic lymphocytes (IHL) is evidence of liver pathology. In a liver injured by chronic hepatitis C, the most common chronic liver disease, most IHL are activated/pro-inflammatory cells, which are particularly enriched for effectors of innate immunity (natural killer (NK), natural T, and other NK-like T cells). IHL do not undergo clonal expansion in the liver but migrate from extrahepatic sites to the chronically infected liver, where they display effector function and subsequently die, suggesting that maintenance of the IHL pool depends on continuous lymphocyte migration. The cytotoxic and inflammatory functions of these IHL have three potential outcomes: 1) they could be helpful in clearing the virus (a rare case in hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection); 2) they could be useless and have no effect on the infection; or 3) they could be harmful, whereby overaggressive lymphocyte responses destroy the liver in a continuous and unsuccessful attempt to clear the virus. Unfortunately, we do not know as of yet which of these possibilities is the case and, therefore, a more complete picture of the intrahepatic immune response will be relevant to the development of new therapeutic strategies against HCV. Additionally and from a more general perspective, due to the availability of biopsied material and the high prevalence (approximately 3%) of HCV infection worldwide, studying the chronically inflamed liver of hepatitis C patients is an ideal model to investigate the poorly understood processes of lymphocyte trafficking, activation and death to non-lymphoid sites of chronic inflammation in man.