Background & Aims: The second slope of viral decline induced by interferon treatment has been suggested to be influenced mainly by the hepatitis C virus (HCV)-specific T-cell response; however, this hypothesis needs to be validated by results derived from experimental studies. Methods: To address this issue, the HCV-specific T-cell response of 32 genotype-1-infected patients of the 270 patients enrolled in the dynamically individualized treatment of hepatitis C infection and correlates of viral/host dynamics phase III, open-label, randomized, multicenter trial was studied in relation to viral kinetics and treatment outcome. Results: Greater proliferative responses by HCV-specific CD8 cells were found before treatment in patients with a fast viral decline and with a sustained viral response. However, no significant improvement of HCV-specific CD8 responses was observed in the first weeks of therapy in both rapid viral responder and non-rapid viral responder patients. A mild enhancement of proliferative T-cell responses and a partial restoration of the cytotoxic T-cell potential was expressed only late during treatment, likely favored by HCV clearance. Conclusions: Early restoration of an efficient T-cell response does not seem to be an essential requirement for a rapid viral decline in the first weeks of treatment. However, patients presenting a better HCV-specific CD8 cell proliferative potential at baseline are more likely to present a rapid and sustained viral response. Therefore, future treatment protocols should consider the development of strategies aimed at improving HCV-specific T-cell responses.
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