Link to Pubmed [PMID] – 21647449
PLoS ONE 2011;6(5):e20145
CD4(+) and CD8(+) T cells, the main effectors of adaptive cellular immune responses, differentiate from immature, non-functional CD4(+)CD8(+) double-positive T (DPT) cells in the thymus. Increased proportions of circulating DPT lymphocytes have been observed during acute viral infections; in chronic viral diseases, the role and repartition of extra-thymic DPT cells remain largely uncharacterized. We performed a phenotypic analysis of DPT cells in blood and liver from patients chronically infected by hepatitis C (HCV) or B (HBV) viruses. The highest percentages of DPT cells, predominantly CD4(high)CD8(low), were observed in patients infected by HCV, while HBV-infected patients mostly displayed CD4(low)CD8(high) and CD4(high)CD8(high) DPT cells. All proportions of DPT cells were higher in liver than in blood with, for each subpopulation referred to above, a correlation between their frequencies in these two compartments. In HCV patients, intra-hepatic DPT cells displayed more heterogeneous activation, differentiation and memory phenotypes than in the blood; most of them expressed CD1a, a marker of T cell development in the thymus. Ex vivo, the inoculation of liver slices with HCV produced in cell culture was accompanied by a disappearance of CD8(high) cells, suggesting a direct effect of the virus on the phenotype of DPT cells in the liver. Our results suggest that, in half of the patients, chronic HCV infection promotes the production of DPT cells, perhaps by their re-induction in the thymus and selection in the liver.