Clearance of the hepatitis B virus (HBV) during acute hepatitis is associated with a strong, polyclonal, multispecific cytotoxic T lymphocyte (CTL) response to the viral envelope, nucleocapsid and polymerase proteins that persists for decades after clinical recovery. In contrast, chronically infected patients usually fail to mount a strong CTL response to this virus. In this study we demonstrate that chronically infected patients who experience a spontaneous or interferon-induced remission develop a CTL response to HBV that is similar in strength and specificity to patients who have recovered from acute hepatitis. The results suggest that specific immunotherapeutic enhancement of the CTL response to HBV should be possible in chronically infected patients, and that it could lead to viral clearance in these individuals with resolution of chronic liver disease.
B Rehermann, D Lau, J H Hoofnagle, F V Chisari