Objective Chronic HCV infection is characterised by innate immune activation with increased interferon-stimulated genes (ISG) expression and by an altered phenotype of interferon-responsive natural killer (NK) cells. Here, we asked whether a rapid reduction in viremia by daclatasvir (DCV) and asunaprevir (ASV) improves the response to pegylated interferon (PegIFN) in patients who had previously failed a standard course of PegIFN/ribavirin (RBV) therapy.
Design Twenty-two HCV-infected non-responders to previous PegIFN/RBV therapy were studied for IFN-responsiveness of NK cells during quadruple (QUAD) therapy with DCV, ASV, PegIFN and RBV. A direct comparison of early NK cell responses in PegIFN/RBV therapy and QUAD therapy was performed for seven patients using paired cryopreserved peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) from both treatment courses. As a validation cohort, nine DCV/ASV-treated patients were studied for their NK cell response to in vitro stimulation with IFNα.
Results The 24 h virological response to QUAD therapy correlated with an increase in signal transducer and activator of transcription 1 (STAT1), phosphorylated STAT1 (pSTAT1) and tumour necrosis factor-related apoptosis-inducing ligand (TRAIL) expression in NK cells, and the STAT1/pSTAT1/TRAIL induction was greater during QUAD therapy than during previous PegIFN/RBV therapy. Successful QUAD therapy as well as successful IFN-free DCV/ASV regimen resulted in an improved functional NK cell response (degranulation and TRAIL expression) to in vitro stimulation with IFNα.
Conclusions IFN-responsiveness can be improved by inhibiting HCV replication and reducing the HCV-induced activation of the innate immune response. This may provide a rationale for clinical trials of a brief period of direct acting antiviral therapy followed by PegIFN/RBV therapy to reduce the overall treatment costs in low-income and middle-income countries.
Trial registration numbers NCT01888900 and NCT00718172.
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