Hepatitis C (HCV) recurrence following orthotopic liver transplantation (OLT) is universal, often with accelerated allograft fibrosis. Donor liver steatosis is frequently encountered and often associated with poor early post-operative outcome. The study’s aim was to test the hypothesis that allograft steatosis alters immune responses to HCV and self-antigens promoting allograft fibrosis.
Forty-eight HCV OLT recipients (OLTr) were enrolled and classified based on amount of allograft macrovesicular steatosis at time of OLT. Group 1-No Steatosis (0–5% steatosis, n=21), Group 2 – Mild (5–35% - n=16), Group 3 – moderate (>35%, n=11). Cells secreting IL-17, IL-10, IFN-γ in response to HCV antigens were enumerated by ELISpot. Serum cytokines were measured by Luminex, antibodies (Abs) to Collagen (Col) I, II, III, IV, V by ELISA.
OLTr of moderate steatotic grafts had the highest incidence of advanced fibrosis in protocol one-year post-OLT biopsy (10.8% vs. 15.8% vs. 36.6%, r = 0.157, p<0.05). OLTr from Groups 2 and 3 had increased HCV specific IL-17 (p<0.05) and IL-10 (p<0.05) with reduced IFN-γ (p<0.05) secreting cells when compared to group 1. This was associated with increase in serum IL-17, IL-10, IL-1β, IL-6, IL-5 and decreased IFN-γ. In addition, there was development of Abs to Col I, II, III and V in OLTr with increased steatosis (p<0.05).
The results demonstrate that allograft steatosis influences post-OLT HCV specific immune responses leading to a IL-17 T-helper response and activation of humoral immune responses to liver associated self antigens which may contribute to allograft fibrosis and poor outcome.