Starved T cells increase susceptibility to hepatitis B liver infections
Hepatitis B starves important immune cells, cutting them off from nutrients that are crucial to the immune system’s function.
This explains why the immune system is incapable of maintaining control over a hepatitis B infection after it has settled into the liver.
The study also shows potential methods for developing new treatments for hepatitis B liver infections, as well as new ways to control the immune system for auto-immune disease therapies and organ transplants.
"Hepatitis B patients usually don't have symptoms for decades, so can carry the virus unknowingly and can spread it through childbirth, sexual contact or contaminated needles," Professor Mala Maini, of UCL’s Infection & Immunity and senior author of the study, said. "Our work has shown that during this 'silent phase' of infection, specialized suppressor cells switch off the immune response by cutting off its food supply. This is one of the many ways the liver protects itself from inflammation and immune damage but at the same time, prevents elimination of pathogens like hepatitis B.”
Worldwide 240 million people have chronic hepatitis B, and 780,000 people die each year from the liver cirrhosis and cancer that it causes, according to ScienceDaily.
"If we could boost the immune system and counteract the liver's suppressive effect, then the infection could potentially be cleared after a large 'burst' of immune activity,” Maini said. “This might cause short-term damage to the liver, but would prevent the long-term damage from scarring and liver cancers that we see in chronic patients."