Non-specific immune responses to antigens have been demonstrated as being enhanced during chronic hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection. Here, we evaluated the role of interleukin-10 (IL-10)-producing regulatory B-cells (Bregs) in the pathogenesis of HBV-related liver fibrosis (HBV-LF) and assessed their immunoregulatory effects. Sixty-seven patients diagnosed with chronic hepatitis B (CHB) were enrolled in this study. Numbers and frequencies of peripheral B-cells (memory CD19+CD24hiCD27+ cells, immature/transitional CD19+CD24hiCD38hi cells, mature CD19+CD24intCD38int cells) were tested and analysed. Flow cytometry-sorted CD4+T cells were cultured with autologous Bregs to elucidate the effects of Bregs on CD4+T cells, including effector T and regulatory T-cells (Tregs). The potential immunoregulatory mechanism of Bregs was also investigated. The numbers of total B-cells and Bregs were enriched in CHB patients. The frequency of Bregs was negatively correlated with elevated alanine aminotransferase (ALT) and histological inflammation grades (G), but positively correlated with advanced histological fibrosis stages (S) and enhanced HBV replication. The phenotype of Bregs was predominantly characterized as CD19+CD24hiCD38hi. In co-culture with Bregs, CD4+CD25T cells from CHB patients produced less interferon-γ (IFN-γ) and IL-17 but more IL-4 than CD4+CD25T cells alone, whereas their conversions into Tregs and IL-10+T cells were enhanced. In addition, Breg depletion in CHB samples dramatically decreased Treg numbers and expression of cytotoxic T-lymphocyte associated antigen-4 (CTLA-4), IL-10 and transforming growth factor-β (TGF-β). Moreover, the observed regulatory effect was partly dependent on IL-10 release and cell-to-cell contact. Elevated Bregs can suppress effector T but enhance Treg functions, which might influence immune tolerance in chronic HBV infection.

You do not currently have access to this content.