Dynamics of the Immune Response in Acute Hepatitis B Infection

Femke Stelma, Sophie B. Willemse, Robin Erken, Annikki De Niet, Marjan J. Sinnige, Karel Van Dort, Hans L. Zaaijer, Ester M.M. Van Leeuwen, Neeltje A. Kootstra, Hendrik W. Reesink

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Background: Acute hepatitis B virus infection in adults is generally self-limiting but may lead to chronicity in a minority of patients. Methods: We included 9 patients with acute hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection and collected longitudinal follow-up samples. Natural killer (NK) cell characteristics were analyzed by flowcytometry. HBV-specific T-cell function was analyzed by in vitro stimulation with HBV peptide pools and intracellular cytokine staining. Results: Median baseline HBV DNA load was 5.12 log IU/mL, and median ALT was 2652 U/mL. Of 9 patients, 8 cleared HBsAg within 6 months whereas 1 patient became chronically infected. Early time points after infection showed increased CD56bright NK cells and an increased proportion of cells expressing activation markers. Most of these had normalized at week 24, while the proportion of TRAIL-positive CD56bright NK cells remained high in the chronically infected patient. In patients who cleared HBV, functional HBV-specific CD8+ and CD4+ responses could be observed, whereas in the patient who developed chronic infection, only low HBV-specific T-cell responses were observed. Conclusions: NK cells are activated early in the course of acute HBV infection. Broad and multispecific T-cell responses are observed in patients who clear acute HBV infection, but not in a patient who became chronically infected.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberofx231
JournalOpen forum infectious diseases
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • acute hepatitis B
  • HBV-specific T cells
  • NK cells

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