UMass Chan Medical School Faculty Publications


Tumor Necrosis Factor-producing T-regulatory Cells Are Associated With Severe Liver Injury in Patients With Acute Hepatitis A

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Division of Infectious Diseases and Immunology, Department of Medicine; UMass Metabolic Network

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Digestive System Diseases | Gastroenterology | Immunology and Infectious Disease


BACKGROUND AND AIMS: CD4(+)CD25(+)Foxp3(+) T-regulatory (Treg) cells control immune responses and maintain immune homeostasis. However, under inflammatory conditions, Treg cells produce cytokines that promote inflammation. We investigated production of tumor necrosis factor (TNF) by Treg cells in patients with acute hepatitis A (AHA), and examined the characteristics of these cells and association with clinical factors.

METHODS: We analyzed blood samples collected from 63 patients with AHA at the time of hospitalization (and some at later time points) and 19 healthy donors in South Korea. Liver tissues were collected from patients with fulminant AHA during liver transplantation. Peripheral blood mononuclear cells were isolated from whole blood and lymphocytes were isolated from liver tissues and analyzed by flow cytometry. Cytokine production from Treg cells (CD4(+)CD25(+)Foxp3(+)) was measured by immunofluorescence levels following stimulation with anti-CD3 and anti-CD28. Epigenetic stability of Treg cells was determined based on DNA methylation patterns. Phenotypes of Treg cells were analyzed by flow cytometry and an RORgammat inhibitor, ML-209, was used to inhibit TNF production. Treg cell suppression assay was performed by co-culture of Treg-depleted peripheral blood mononuclear cells s and isolated Treg cells.

RESULTS: A higher proportion of CD4(+)CD25(+)Foxp3(+) Treg cells from patients with AHA compared with controls produced TNF upon stimulation with anti-CD3 and anti-CD28 (11.2% vs 2.8%). DNA methylation analysis confirmed the identity of the Treg cells. TNF-producing Treg cells had features of T-helper 17 cells, including up-regulation of RORgammat, which was required for TNF production. The Treg cells had reduced suppressive functions compared with Treg cells from controls. The frequency of TNF-producing Treg cells in AHA patients' blood correlated with their serum level of alanine aminotransferase.

CONCLUSIONS: Treg cells from patients with AHA have altered functions compared with Treg cells from healthy individuals. Treg cells from patients with AHA produce higher levels of TNF, gain features of T-helper 17 cells, and have reduced suppressive activity. The presence of these cells is associated with severe liver injury in patients with AHA.


ALT, Hepatitis A Virus Infection, Inflammation, Liver Injury

DOI of Published Version



Gastroenterology. 2018 Mar;154(4):1047-1060. doi: 10.1053/j.gastro.2017.11.277. Epub 2017 Dec 9. Link to article on publisher's site


Full author list omitted for brevity. For the full list of authors, see article.

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