Pediatric autoimmune hepatitis shows a disproportionate decline of regulatory T cells in the liver and of IL-2 in the blood of patients undergoing therapy

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Abstract

Background & Aims: The autoimmune hepatitis (AIH) is a chronic hepatitis driven by the adaptive immunity that affects all age groups. A functional and numerical regulatory T cell (Treg) defect has been reported in pediatric AIH (pAIH), while an intrahepatic increase in adult AIH (aAIH) patients has been detected in current research findings. Methods: Therefore, we quantified the intrahepatic numbers of Treg, T and B cells, as well as serum cytokine levels before and during therapy in pAIH. Results: We found a disproportional intrahepatic enrichment of Tregs in untreated pAIH compared to pediatric non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. The increase of Treg/total T cells was even more pronounced than in aAIH due to fewer infiltrating T and B cells. Portal densities of Treg, as well as total T and B cells, declined significantly during therapy. However, portal Treg densities decreased disproportionately, leading to even decreasing ratios of Treg to T and B cells during therapy. Out of 28 serum cytokines IL-2 showed the strongest (10fold) decrease under therapy. This decline of IL-2 was associated with decreasing intrahepatic Treg numbers under therapy. None of the baseline T and B cell infiltration parameters were associated with the subsequent treatment response in pAIH. Conclusions: Intrahepatic Tregs are rather enriched in untreated pAIH. The disproportional decrease of Tregs during therapy may be caused by a decrease of IL-2 levels. New therapies should, therefore, aim in strengthening intrahepatic immune regulation.

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Diestelhorst, J., Junge, N., Schlue, J., Falk, C. S., Manns, M. P., Baumann, U., … Taubert, R. (2017). Pediatric autoimmune hepatitis shows a disproportionate decline of regulatory T cells in the liver and of IL-2 in the blood of patients undergoing therapy. PLoS ONE, 12(7). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0181107

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