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Helper T cells, not killer T cells, might be responsible for clearing hepatitis A infection
Date:7/16/2012

Helper cells traditionally thought to only assist killer white blood cells may be the frontline warriors when battling hepatitis A infection. These are the findings from a Nationwide Children's Hospital study appearing in a recent issue of the Journal of Experimental Medicine.

Hepatitis A is a highly contagious liver infection caused by the hepatitis A virus. Despite the availability of an effective vaccine, the virus infects millions of people worldwide each year and remains a global public health problem, especially in underdeveloped countries.

Unlike the hepatitis C virus, the hepatitis A virus does not establish a persistent infection. Yet, up to 20 percent of patients can relapse several weeks after virus growth and after symptoms have disappeared.

"Mechanisms of immunity that protect against relapse, and why they occasionally fail, are unknown," said the study's lead author Christopher M. Walker, PhD, director of the Center for Vaccines and Immunity at The Research Institute at Nationwide Children's Hospital.

Research has shown that white blood cells known as CD8+ killer T cells play a critical role in controlling hepatitis C and hepatitis B virus infections. These T cells act by killing infected liver cells, a process that damages the liver, but is necessary to effectively shut off production of new viruses.

A study published more than 20 years ago suggested that killer T cells also control hepatitis A virus infection in humans. However, Dr. Walker observed a very different pattern of immunity while studying acute hepatitis A virus infection in animals.

He found that the infection was controlled well before an effective killer T cell response was generated. Hepatitis A virus growth was instead controlled by CD4+ T helper cells, a different type of white blood cell that normally assists in the activation killer T cells but, is not thought to directly engage virus-infected cells. In the two infec
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Contact: Mary Ellen Peacock
maryellen.peacock@nationwidechildrens.org
614-355-0495
Nationwide Children's Hospital
Source:Eurekalert

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