Abnormal B-Cell Activation Associated With TALL-1 Over-Expression and SOCS-1 Suppression During Chronic Hepatitis C Virus Infection

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Chronic hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection is associated with cirrhosis, autoimmunity and lymphoproliferative disorders. We have previously reported a differential regulation of T and B lymphocytes by HCV core protein in vitro. In this report, we employed a translational approach to characterize the activation status of peripheral B cells from individuals with chronic HCV infection and to explore potential mechanisms for B-cell dysregulation in the setting of HCV infection. In contrast to the T-cell suppression observed in HCV-infected individuals, B cells exhibit a non-specific polyclonal activation phenotype, characterized by significantly higher levels of (1) the early activation marker, CD69, (2) the costimulatory molecule, CD86, and (3) the CCR5 chemokine receptor, CD195, when compared with B cells from healthy donors in response to phytohaemagglutinin (PHA) stimulation. Importantly, tumour necrosis factor- and Apo-L-related leucocyte-expressed ligand-1 (TALL-1), also known as B-lymphocyte stimulator (BLYS), was found to be up-regulated on the surface of B cells from HCV patients in response to PHA as well as HCV core antigen stimulation. This up-regulation of TALL-1 was associated with vigorous memory B-cell responses to viral antigenic stimulation. Additionally, suppressor of cytokine signalling-1 (SOCS-1), a negative feedback immunoregulator that is inhibited in B lymphocytes by HCV core in vitro, was also inhibited in B cells from HCV patients when compared with healthy donors. These findings suggest that TALL-1 over-expression and SOCS-1 suppression are associated with aberrant B-cell activation, providing a plausible basis for the B-cell clonal expansion underlying the lymphoproliferative disorders and autoimmune phenomena observed during chronic HCV infection.