1 Department of Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Endocrinology, Hannover Medical School, Hannover, Germany.
2 Department of Medicine B, Gastroenterology and Hepatology, University Hospital Münster, Münster, Germany.
3 TTU-IICH, German Center for Infection Research (DZIF), Partner Site Hannover-Braunschweig, Hannover-Braunschweig, Germany.
4 Department of General, Abdominal, and Transplant Surgery, Hannover Medical School, Hanover, Germany.
5 Institute of Transplantation Immunology (IFB-Tx), Hannover Medical School, Hannover, Germany.
6 Department of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, Essen University Hospital, University of Duisburg-Essen, Essen, Germany.
HCV clearance by current antiviral therapies improves clinical outcomes but falls short in eliminating the risk for hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) emergence. As the HCC immune surveillance establishment is vital for the control of neoplastic development and growth, we investigated its correlation with on-/post-treatment HCC emergence, and further analyzed the influence of viral eradication on this setup in patients with HCV-related liver cirrhosis.
PBMC isolated at baseline and longitudinally during therapy were analyzed for tumor-associated antigen (TAA)-specific CD8+ T cell responses against glypican-3 overlapping peptides in vitro using high-definition flow cytometry. Multianalyte profiling of fifty soluble inflammatory mediators (SIM) in the plasma was also performed using Luminex-based multiplex technology.
Cirrhosis patients were characterized by an altered profile of distinct SIMs at baseline. At this time point, immune-surveilling T cells targeting specific HCC-associated antigens were readily detectable in HCV-free cirrhosis patients whilst being rather weak in such patients who further developed HCC upon virus eradication. Therapy-induced cure of HCV infection analogously reduced the strength of the prevailing HCC immune surveillance machinery, particularly by CD8+ T cells in cirrhosis patients. These results were further validated by T cell reactivities to six immuno-dominant HCC-associated HLA-A2-restricted epi-topes. Further, we demonstrated that this phenomenon was likely orchestrated by alterations in SIMs - with evidence of IL-12 being a major culprit.
Given the relationship between the baseline HCC-specific immune surveilling T cell responses and therapy-associated HCC emergence, and the impact of HCV clearance on its strength and magnitude, we recommend a continued HCC screening in cirrhotic HCV patients despite HCV resolution.