Epidemic of Hepatitis B with high mortality in India: association of fulminant disease with lack of CCL4 and natural killer T cells

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SUMMARY.An explosive outbreak of Hepatitis B with high mortality was reported in 2009, in Modasa, Gujarat, India. Mortality was associated with basal core promoter and precore mutant hepatitis B virus (HBV). The current study addresses the role of immunological parameters in the progression to fulminant hepatitis. The study population comprised of 22 acute HBV patients, 13 fulminant HBV liver failure patients and 54 healthy controls. Hepatitis B surface antigen-induced CTL responses by enzyme-linked immunosorbent spot (ELISPOT), cytokine and chemokine quantitation by Bioplex assay, peripheral NK, natural killer T (NKT), CD4 and CD8 T-cell frequencies by flow cytometry were carried out. The median percentage of NK cells in the lymphocytes of the acute and fulminant liver failure patients were significantly lower compared to controls. Acute and fulminant liver failure patients had significantly high and comparable NKT cells compared to controls, respectively. Importantly, NKT cells were significantly lower in fulminant HBV liver failure than acute HBV patients. Circulating peripheral CD4/CD8 T-cell subsets among the patient categories and controls were comparable. In acute HBV patients, a significant increase in IFN-γ release was recorded (ELISPOT) by the unstimulated, antigen-stimulated and mitogen-stimulated cells when compared to controls. Comparisons of cytokines and chemokines among the disease categories revealed significantly lower levels of CCL4 in fulminant liver failure patients. NKT cells and CCL4 might be playing a pivotal role in limiting HBV infection among the patients investigated.

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