The expression and function of NKG2D molecule on intrahepatic CD8+ T cells in chronic viral hepatitis

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The natural killer (NK) cell receptor, NKG2D is a member of the c-type lectin-activating receptor family. It is expressed by all NK cells and by a sub-population of CD8+ T cells. NKG2D engagement with its ligands directly activates NK cells and acts as a co-stimulator on CD8+ T cells. Recent reports, however, have demonstrated a role for NKG2D in direct T-cell activation in chronic inflammation. The aim of this study was to investigate the pattern of expression and the functional role of NKG2D on circulating and intrahepatic CD8+ T cells in chronic viral hepatitis. Peripheral blood lymphocytes and intrahepatic lymphocytes from 45 patients with chronic viral hepatitis (HBV and HCV) were studied. Phenotypic NKG2D expression and its functional ability to activate intrahepatic and circulating lymphocytes were analysed. Intrahepatic CD8+ T cells display increased NKG2D expression in chronic viral hepatitis in comparison with circulating CD8+ T cells. NKG2D co-stimulates intrahepatic CD8+ T cells and hepatitis B virus-specific CD8+ T cells. However, we could not demonstrate an ability to directly activate CD8+ T cells through the NKG2D signalling pathway alone. NKG2D is up-regulated on intrahepatic CD8+ T cells in type B and C chronic viral hepatitis; however, its function appears to be restricted to that of a co-stimulatory molecule.

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