Background /Aims: Interleukin-10 (IL-10) has been ascribed pro-viral but anti-fibrotic properties in chronic hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection. In this study, we examined the role of HCV-specific T-cell IL-10 response in patients with acute and chronic HCV infection. Methods: Peripheral HCV-specific T-cell IL-10 and IFNγ responses were measured in cytokine Elispot assay using overlapping HCV-derived peptides in patients with chronic (n = 61), resolved (n = 15) and acute (n = 8) hepatitis C, looking for their onset, quantity, breadth and durability relative to clinical and virological outcomes. The source and effect of HCV-specific IL-10 response were determined in depletion and IL-10 neutralization experiments. Results: Both HCV-specific IL-10 and IFNγ responses were detected early within 1-2 months of acute clinical hepatitis C. However, only HCV-specific IL-10 response correlated with elevated liver enzymes, increased viremia and suppressed HCV-specific CD4+ T-cell proliferation in acute infection. While these associations were lost in established chronic infection, HCV-specific IL-10 responses were increased in patients without cirrhosis while IL-10 blockade enhanced antiviral effector IFNγ responses. Conclusions: HCV-specific IL-10 Tr1 responses may play a dual role in HCV infection, dampening effector T-cells to promote viral persistence in acute infection but also protecting against progressive fibrosis in chronic infection.
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