Chronically infected patients are able to successfully fight the deadly Hepatitis B virus because the cells that control the disease are forced to self-destruct, a study by researches at the University College London has indicated.
Dr Mala Maini and colleagues found that Hepatitis B virus (HBV) triggers a group of cells, called T cells, to 'commit suicide' in patients who are chronically infected.
The researchers say that their findings may have future implications for developing therapies or vaccines that boost the body's ability to manage this infection.
For the study, the researchers examined thousands of genes in T cells, critical players of the immune system required for control of HBV and found that T cells from patients who were chronically infected were triggered to 'commit suicide'.
This discovery can act as an important factor in determining why these patients' immune systems cannot fight the infection, the team said.
Hepatitis B virus (HBV) is one of the most common viruses in the world and over 350 million people have long-term infection with HBV, which may lead to liver cirrhosis, liver failure or liver cancer.
"We used microarray gene chips to screen more than 5,000 genes in T cells from both recovered and chronically infected Hepatitis B patients. This led to the discovery that, instead of successfully reacting to the virus, the T cells in the latter group were triggered to commit suicide by one of the cells' own death-inducing proteins, called 'Bim'. We are now looking into the fine mechanism driving this outcome," said Maini.
"If we can develop safe ways of blocking the suicidal tendency of the T cells, we may be able to prolong their survival, so they can do a better job of controlling Hepatitis B infection," added the paper's first author, Ross Lopes.
The findings of this study are published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.