Ribavirin exerts differential effects on functions of Cd4+ Th1, Th2, and regulatory T cell clones in hepatitis C.
Ribavirin improves outcomes of therapy in chronic hepatitis C but its mode of action has still remained unclear. Since ribavirin has been proposed to modulate the host's T cell responses, we studied its direct effects on CD4(+) T cell clones with diverse functional polarization which had been generated from patients with chronic hepatitis C. We analysed in vitro proliferation ([(3)H] thymidine uptake) and cytokine responses (IL-10, IFN-gamma) at varying concentrations of ribavirin (0-10 µg/ml) in 8, 9 and 7 CD4(+) TH1, TH2 and regulatory T cell (Treg) clones, respectively. In co-culture experiments, we further determined effects of ribarivin on inhibition of TH1 and TH2 effector cells by Treg clones. All clones had been generated from peripheral blood of patients with chronic hepatitis C in the presence of HCV core protein. Ribavirin enhanced proliferation of T effector cells and increased production of IFN-gamma in TH1 clones, but had only little effect on IL-10 secretion in TH2 clones. However, ribavirin markedly inhibited IL-10 release in Treg clones in a dose dependent fashion. These Treg clones suppressed proliferation of T effector clones by their IL-10 secretion, and in co-culture assays ribavirin reversed Treg-mediated suppression of T effector cells. Our in vitro data suggest that--in addition to its immunostimulatory effects on TH1 cells--ribavirin can inhibit functions of HCV-specific Tregs and thus reverses Treg-mediated suppression of T effector cells in chronic hepatitis C.