Chronic liver disease has been shown to be associated with diminished humoral and cellular immune function. Although antigen-presenting cells (APC) that initiate immune responses include various cells (B cells, endothelial cells, macrophages, etc.), the dendritic cell (DC) is a professional APC that activates naive T cells most efficiently. To examine the frequency and function of DCs in chronic liver disease, we studied circulating DCs from a cohort of 112 subjects (23 normal subjects, 29 subjects who had spontaneously recovered from hepatitis C virus [HCV] infection, 30 chronically infected HCV patients, and 30 patients with liver disease unrelated to HCV infection). Our analyses revealed significant reduction in both circulating myeloid (mDC) and plasmacytoid dendritic cells (pDC) in patients with liver disease. In contrast, examination of subjects with spontaneously resolved HCV infection revealed no significant difference in either circulating mDCs or pDCs. We found an inverse correlation with serum alanine aminotransferase (ALT) levels and both mDCs and pDCs frequency. In a subset of patients for whom intrahepatic cells were available, paired analysis revealed enrichment for DCs within the intrahepatic compartment. Interferon alfa (IFN-α) production in response to influenza A and poly (I:C) correlated with the frequency of circulating DCs, although IFN-α production was comparable on a per-DC basis in patients with liver disease. In conclusion, patients with liver disease exhibit a reduction in circulating DCs. Considering that DCs are essential for initiation and regulation of innate and adaptive immunity, these findings have implications for both viral persistence and liver disease.
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