Skewed B cells in chronic hepatitis C virus infection maintain their ability to respond to virus-induced activation

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Chronic hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection is characterized by persistent B-cell activation, with enhanced differentiation and reduced proliferative ability. To assess the possible role of HCV in altering B-cell subset distribution, we examined ex vivo frequencies and B-cell inhibitory receptor expression in 37 chronic HCV-infected patients and 25 healthy donors (HD). In addition, we determined whether short-term exposure to culture-derived HCV (HCVcc) resulted in B-cell subset skewing and/or activation. There was a statistically significant increase in the frequencies of immature transitional, activated memory and tissue-like memory (TLM) B cells in HCV-infected patients compared with HD. We also found that the frequency of memory B cells correlated with serum HCV RNA levels. The proportion of B cells expressing the marker of exhaustion Fc receptor-like 4 (FcRL4) was generally low even though significantly higher in the patients' memory B-cell compartment compared with HD, and a positive correlation was found between the frequencies of the patients' TLM FcRL4+ B cells and serum alanine aminotransferase and histological activity index at liver biopsy. Exposure to cell-free HCVcc in vitro did not result in B-cell skewing but induced significant activation of naïve, TLM and resting memory B cells in HCV-infected patients but not in HD, in whom cell-associated virus was an absolute requirement for activation of memory B cells. These findings provide corroborative evidence in favour of significant B-cell subset skewing in chronic HCV infection and in addition show that expression of exhaustion markers in selected B-cell subsets does not impair virus-induced B-cell activation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)391-398
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Viral Hepatitis
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Apr 1 2015


  • activation
  • B cells
  • FcRL4
  • hepatitis C virus

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Hepatology
  • Infectious Diseases
  • Virology
  • Medicine(all)

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