Inflammatory Changes to T Cells Could Lead to Severe Viral Hepatitis

T cell alterations could exacerbate acute hepatitis infections.

New findings suggest that a cellular mechanism can cause inflammatory changes in regulatory T cells and spark severe viral hepatitis, according to a study published by Gastroenterology.

The authors said that activated immune cells in patients with viral hepatitis kill hepatocytes, but how it does this was previously unknown.

Regulatory T cells block the unnecessary activation of immune cells and are important for immune system regulation. The authors of the current study said that prior research shows that these actions may be weakened in patients with inflammatory diseases and that regulatory T cells secrete inflammatory cytokines to account for these changes; however, these changes were not observed in viral hepatitis.

In the current study, the authors focused on examining the changes in regulatory T cells among patients with viral hepatitis.

The authors discovered that regulatory T cells experience inflammatory changes to secrete tumor necrosis factor (TNF) cytokines, according to the study. Importantly, they also found that regulatory T cells expressing TNF are involved with viral hepatitis progression.

The authors said that regulatory T cells from patients with acute hepatitis A have diminished immune functions and secrete TNF instead.

The findings of the study identified the molecular mechanism responsible for changes in T cells and the cytokine responsible for regulating this process, according to the authors.

The results showed similar changes in the T cells of patients with hepatitis B and C virus.

These findings may explain why patients with hepatitis may progress to more severe disease and could help develop new treatments, according to the study.

"This is the first research on regulatory T cells that contributes to hepatocyte damage in viral hepatitis,” said lead researcher Eui-Cheol Shin, PhD. "It is significant for identifying the cells and the molecules that can be used as effective treatment targets for viral hepatitis in the future.”