High serum IL-21 levels after 12 weeks of antiviral therapy predict HBeAg seroconversion in chronic hepatitis B.

Hepatology Unit and Key Lab for Organ Failure Research, Nanfang Hospital, Southern Medical University, No. 1838, North Guangzhou Avenue, Guangzhou 510515, China.
Journal of Hepatology (Impact Factor: 9.86). 12/2011; 56(4):775-81. DOI: 10.1016/j.jhep.2011.10.020
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT Interleukin-21 (IL-21) stimulates T cell and B cell responses and plays a role in control of chronic viral infections. The role of IL-21 in chronic hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection is not understood.
Serum IL-21 levels were measured by enzyme immunoassay in 75 HBeAg-positive chronic hepatitis B (CHB) patients undergoing telbivudine treatment. The findings were validated in 103 patients from a separate clinical trial of telbivudine. A complete response to telbivudine was defined as having both HBeAg seroconversion and serum HBV-DNA level <300 copies/ml by treatment week 52. The proportions of T-cells producing IL-21 and/or expressing programmed death 1 (PD-1) in peripheral blood mononuclear cells were assessed longitudinally during treatment by intracellular cytokine staining and flow cytometry.
Median serum IL-21 levels at treatment week 12 were significantly higher in patients who did achieve vs. patients who did not achieve a complete response in both the initial (128.4 vs. 69.2 pg/ml, p=0.003) and the validation (142.2 vs. 89.9 pg/ml, p=0.004) trials. Serum levels of IL-21 (p=0.005) or HBV-DNA (p=0.003) levels at treatment week 12 independently predicted HBeAg seroconversion in the first year of treatment. The decrease in PD-1 expression on CD4(+) and CD8(+) T cells during the first 12 weeks on telbivudine treatment was not correlated with changes in IL-21 concentrations.
Serum IL-21 levels may be a biomarker for HBeAg seroconversion, and may contribute to individualization of antiviral therapy in HBeAg-positive CHB. IL-21 may also have a role in immunotherapy for CHB.

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