Hepatitis C virus infection can be associated with different extrahepatic manifestations, including lichen planus; however, no clear role for HCV in their pathogenesis has been established. T cells were isolated from lichen biopsy specimens of 7 HCV positive patients with oral lichen planus. HCV-specific CD4+ T-cell lines were obtained in 4 patients from lichen lesions but only in 2 of them from the peripheral blood. Different clonal populations were found in oral tissue and peripheral blood of individual patients, as shown by TCR-Vβ analysis of antigen-specific T cellr. Frequency of HCV-specific CD8+ cells tested with 4 different HCV tetramers was significantly higher in the lichen tissue than in the circulation; moreover, lichen-derived HCV-specific CD8+ T cells showed the phenotype of recently activated T cells because most of them were CD69+ and produced interferon gamma (IFN-γ) but expanded poorly in vitro upon antigen stimulation. The specificity of HCV-reactive T-cell recruitment into the lichen tissue was further confirmed by the absence of HBV-specific T cells within lichen lesions in 3 additional patients with lichen planus associated with HBV infection. Our study shows HCV-specific T-cell responses at the site of the lesions of an HCV-associated dermatologic disease, sustained by HCV-specific T cells with phenotypic and functional characteristics of terminally differentiated effector cells. In conclusion, this finding and the detection of HCV RNA strands in the lichen tissue strongly suggest a role for HCV-specific T-cell responses in the pathogenesis of oral lichen planus associated with HCV infection.
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