Composition of peripheral blood lymphocyte populations during different stages of chronic infection with hepatitis B virus

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To characterize the immunological populations associated with different stages of chronic infection with hepatitis B virus (HBV), we performed flow cytometric analyses on the peripheral blood leucocytes of 29 patients with various forms of chronic hepatitis B. The clinical spectrum of the patients ranged from asymptomatic infections, in the presence of high virus production, to intermittent or recurrent exacerbations of liver injury alternating with relatively normal liver function. Patients with partial resolution of disease who experienced an initial acute flare followed by prolonged seroconversion showed decreased percentages of CD3+ cells during the seroconversion phase when levels of serum alanine transferase(ALT) had normalized. These CD3+ cells were predominantly CD4+ cells bearing the αβ+ T-cell receptor (TCR). In addition, we saw an increase in CD4+ and CD8+ cells bearing theγδ TCR in those patients who had seroconverted. No significant differences were seen between any of the groups with respect to percentage of cells with a naive (CD45RA) or memory (CD45RO) phenotype, or of cells displaying the activation markers CD38, HLA-DR or CD57. Longitudinal analyses of 15 patients failed to show any consistent pattern of changes in the immunophenotypic profile during acute flares and their resolution. Our results indicate that the turnover of circulating T lymphocytes during the apparent quiescent phase of chronic infections is higher than that during acute exacerbations, suggesting an active immunosurveillance role of T-cell subpopulations in maintaining low virus levels during seroconversion.

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