IFNL3/4 genotype is associated with altered immune cell populations in peripheral blood in chronic hepatitis C infection

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Abstract

Single-nucleotide polymorphisms near the interferon lambda 3 (IFNL3) gene predict outcomes to infection and anti-viral treatment in hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection. To identify IFNL3 genotype effects on peripheral blood, we collected phenotype data on 400 patients with genotype 1 chronic hepatitis C (CHC). The IFNL3 responder genotype predicted significantly lower white blood cells (WBCs), as well as lower absolute numbers of monocytes, neutrophils and lymphocytes for both rs8099917 and rs12979860. We sought to define the WBC subsets driving this association using flow cytometry of 67 untreated CHC individuals. Genotype-associated differences were seen in the ratio of CD4CD45RO+ to CD4CD45RO−; CD8CD45RO+ to CD8CD45RO−, NK CD56 dim to bright and monocyte numbers and percentages. Whole blood expression levels of IFNL3, IFNLR1 (interferon lambda receptor 1), IFNLR1-mem (a membrane-associated receptor), IFNLR1-sol (a truncated soluble receptor), MxA and T- and NK (natural killer) cell transcription factors TBX21, GATA3, RORC, FOXP3 and EOMES in two subjects were also determined. CHC patients demonstrated endogenous IFN activation with higher levels of MxA, IFNLR1, IFNLR1-mem and IFNLR1-sol, and IFNL3 genotype-associated differences in transcription factors. Taken together, these data provide evidence of an IFNL3 genotype association with differences in monocyte, T- and NK cell levels in the peripheral blood of patients with CHC. This could underpin genotype associations with spontaneous and treatment-induced HCV clearance and hepatic necroinflammation.

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