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Hepatitis B virus (HBV)-specific T-cell responses to recombinant HBV core protein in patients with normal liver function and co-infected with chronic HBV and human immunodeficiency virus 1 (HIV-1)

Xin Zhang1, Hanqian Xing2, Xia Feng1, Haiping Zhang1, Yi Wang1 and Huiping Yan1*

  • * Corresponding author: Huiping Yan

  • † Equal contributors

Author Affiliations

1 Infection and Immunity Research center of Beijing Youan Hospital, Capital Medical University, Beijing, China100069

2 Liver Failure Treatment & Research center, 302 Military Hospital, Beijing 100039, China

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Virology Journal 2013, 10:232  doi:10.1186/1743-422X-10-232

Published: 12 July 2013



Little is known about HBV-specific T-cell responses in chronic Hepatitis B patients (HBV) that are co-infected with Human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1), especially those with normal alanine aminotransferase (ALT) levels.


Twenty-five patients with chronic HBV (11 hepatitis B e antigen [HBeAg]-positive, 14 HBeAg-negative) were enrolled in a cross-sectional study. A longitudinal study as also conducted in which follow-up was done at 3, 12, and 24 months, after acute HIV-1 infection, in 11 individuals who also had chronic HBV. Peripheral blood mononuclear cells were stimulated with recombinant HBV surface protein (S protein), core protein (C protein) or gag peptide. IFN-γ-secreting T cells were identified by ELISPOT assay.


In the cross-sectional study, co-infected chronic HBV patients had lower C protein-specific T-cell responses compared with mono-infected individuals, though the difference was not significant. In co-infected, chronic HBV patients, the magnitude of C protein-specific T-cell responses was significantly greater in HBeAg-positive subjects compared to HBeAg-negative subjects (p = 0.011). C protein-specific T-cell responses were positively correlated with HBV viral load (rs = 0.40, p = 0.046). However, gag-specific T-cell responses were negatively correlated with HIV viral load (rs = −0.44, p = 0.026) and positively correlated with CD4+ count (rs = 0.46, p = 0.021). The results were different in mono-infected individuals. PBMCs from co-infected HBeAg-positive patients secreted more specific-IFN-γ in cultured supernatants compared with PBMCs from co-infected HBeAg-negative patients (p = 0.019). In the longitudinal study, S protein- and C protein-specific T-cell responses were decreased as the length of follow-up increased (p = 0.034, for S protein; p = 0.105, for C protein). Additionally, the S protein- and C protein-specific T-cell responses were significantly higher in HBeAg-positive patients than in HBeAg-negative patients at 3 and 12 months after HIV-1 infection (all p < 0.05), but not at 24 months. A positive correlation (trend) was found between C protein-specific T-cell responses and HBV viral load at 3 and 12 months after HIV-1 infection.


HBV-specific T-cell responses to recombinant HBV core protein were reduced in chronic HBV patients co-infected with HIV-1. The reduced C protein-specific T cell responses were positively correlated with HBV viral load in co-infected, chronic HBV patients.