Indexed on: 21 Sep '13Published on: 21 Sep '13Published in: Journal of immunology (Baltimore, Md. : 1950)
Liver-induced systemic immune tolerance that occurs during chronic hepadnavirus infection is the biggest obstacle for effective viral clearance. Immunotherapeutic reversal of this tolerance is a promising strategy in the clinic but remains to be explored. In this study, using a hepatitis B virus (HBV)-carrier mouse model, we report that IL-12-based vaccination therapy can efficiently reverse systemic tolerance toward HBV. HBV-carrier mice lost responsiveness to hepatitis B surface Ag (HBsAg) vaccination, and IL-12 alone could not reverse this liver-induced immune tolerance. However, after IL-12-based vaccination therapy, the majority of treated mice became HBsAg(-) in serum; hepatitis B core Ag was also undetectable in hepatocytes. HBV clearance was dependent on HBsAg vaccine-induced anti-HBV immunity. Further results showed that IL-12-based vaccination therapy strongly enhanced hepatic HBV-specific CD8(+) T cell responses, including proliferation and IFN-γ secretion. Systemic HBV-specific CD4(+) T cell responses were also restored in HBV-carrier mice, leading to the arousal of HBsAg-specific follicular Th-germinal center B cell responses and anti-hepatitis B surface Ag Ab production. Recovery of HBsAg-specific responses also correlated with both reduced CD4(+)Foxp3(+) regulatory T cell frequency and an enhanced capacity of effector T cells to overcome inhibition by regulatory T cells. In conclusion, IL-12-based vaccination therapy may reverse liver-induced immune tolerance toward HBV by restoring systemic HBV-specific CD4(+) T cell responses, eliciting robust hepatic HBV-specific CD8(+) T cell responses, and facilitating the generation of HBsAg-specific humoral immunity; thus, this therapy may become a viable approach to treating patients with chronic hepatitis B.