Chronic HCV-infection is characterized by a severe impairment of HCV-specific CD4 T cell help that is driven by chronic antigen stimulation. We aimed to study the fate of HCV-specific CD4 T cells after viral elimination.
HCV-specific CD4 T cell responses were longitudinally analyzed using MHC class II tetramer-technology, multicolor flow cytometry and RNA sequencing in a cohort of chronically HCV-infected patients undergoing therapy with direct-acting antivirals. In addition, HCV-specific neutralizing antibodies and CXCL13 levels were analyzed.
We observed that the frequency of HCV-specific CD4 T cells increased within two weeks after initiation of DAA therapy. Multicolor flow cytometry revealed a downregulation of exhaustion and activation markers and an upregulation of memory-associated markers. While cells with a Th1 phenotype were the predominant subset at baseline, cells with phenotypic and transcriptional characteristics of follicular T helper cells increasingly shaped the circulating HCV-specific CD4 T cell repertoire, suggesting ... (Show More)