Immune control and failure in HCV infection--tipping the balance.
Dustin LB., Cashman SB., Laidlaw SM.
Despite the development of potent antiviral drugs, HCV remains a global health problem; global eradication is a long way off. In this review, we discuss the immune response to HCV infection and particularly, the interplay between viral strategies that delay the onset of antiviral responses and host strategies that limit or even eradicate infected cells but also contribute to pathogenesis. Although HCV can disable some cellular virus-sensing machinery, IFN-stimulated antiviral genes are induced in the infected liver. Whereas epitope evolution contributes to escape from T cell-mediated immunity, chronic high antigen load may also blunt the T cell response by activating exhaustion or tolerance mechanisms. The evasive maneuvers of HCV limit sterilizing humoral immunity through rapid evolution of decoy epitopes, epitope masking, stimulation of interfering antibodies, lipid shielding, and cell-to-cell spread. Whereas the majority of HCV infections progress to chronic hepatitis with persistent viremia, at least 20% of patients spontaneously clear the infection. Most of these are protected from reinfection, suggesting that protective immunity to HCV exists and that a prophylactic vaccine may be an achievable goal. It is therefore important that we understand the correlates of protective immunity and mechanisms of viral persistence.