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The cytotoxic T-cell response in chronic hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection has been described as weak and mono- or oligospecific in comparison to the more robust virus-specific T-cell response present in resolved infection. However, chronic hepatitis B is a heterogeneous disease with markedly variable levels of virus replication and liver disease activity. Here we analyzed (both directly ex vivo and after in vitro stimulation) the HBV-specific CD8 T-cell responses against structural and nonstructural HBV proteins longitudinally in patients with different patterns of chronic infections. We found that the profiles of virus-specific CD8(+)-T-cell responses during chronic infections are highly heterogeneous and influenced more by the level of HBV replication than by the activity of liver disease. An HBV DNA load of <10(7) copies/ml appears to be the threshold below which circulating multispecific HBV-specific CD8(+) T cells are consistently detected. Furthermore, CD8(+) T cells with different specificities are differentially regulated during chronic infections. HBV core-specific CD8(+) T cells are associated with viral control, while CD8(+) T cells specific for envelope and polymerase epitopes can occasionally be found in the setting of high levels (>10(7) copies) of HBV replication. These findings have implications for the design of immunotherapy for chronic HBV infections.

Original publication




Journal article


J Virol

Publication Date





5707 - 5719


Adult, CD8-Positive T-Lymphocytes, DNA, Viral, Female, Hepatitis B, Chronic, Humans, Immunotherapy, Longitudinal Studies, Male, Middle Aged, Viral Nonstructural Proteins, Viral Structural Proteins, Virus Replication