Through the production of stimulatory and suppressive cytokines, dendritic cells (DCs) regulate virus-specific immune responses that are crucial to virus eradication. To explore a possible role of DCs in the persistence of hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection, in this study we analysed peripheral blood DCs (PBDCs) in patients with chronic hepatitis C (CHC) compared with those in both healthy seronegative (HSN) controls and a group of subjects who had spontaneously resolved infection, defined as healthy HCV-seropositive (HSP), and we evaluated the relationships between PBDCs and HCV-specific CD4+ T-cell reactivity. The number of PBDCs, their immunophenotype and expression of regulatory cytokines were evaluated by flow cytometry on whole-blood samples. HCV-specific CD4+ T-cell activation, proliferation and cytokine production were evaluated in cultures of peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) stimulated in vitro with HCV peptides. We found that PBDCs from CHC subjects were numerically reduced and showed lower interleukin-12 (IL-12) and higher IL-10 expression than those from HSN controls. PBDCs from HSP subjects were similar to those from HSN controls. HCV-specific CD4+ T-cell proliferation was less frequent and vigorous in CHC than in HSP patients and was directly related to the number of PBDCs and their IL-12 production but inversely related to their IL-10 production. Taken together, these results seem to suggest that cytokines of DC origin contribute to the regulation of HCV-specific immunity in CHC patients and indicate that PBDCs may represent a novel non-invasive tool for immune monitoring of these patients.
- Hepatitis C virus
- Peripheral blood dendritic cells
- T-cell proliferation
ASJC Scopus subject areas