TLR7 Agonist Increases Responses of Hepatitis B Virus–Specific T Cells and Natural Killer Cells in Patients With Chronic Hepatitis B Treated With Nucleos(T)Ide Analogues

Carolina Boni, Andrea Vecchi, Marzia Rossi, Diletta Laccabue, Tiziana Giuberti, Arianna Alfieri, Pietro Lampertico, Glenda Grossi, Floriana Facchetti, Maurizia R. Brunetto, Barbara Coco, Daniela Cavallone, Alessandra Mangia, Rosanna Santoro, Valeria Piazzolla, Audrey Lau, Anuj Gaggar, G. Mani Subramanian, Carlo Ferrari

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background & Aims: The oral Toll-like receptor (TLR) 7 agonist GS-9620 has antiviral effects in woodchuck and chimpanzee models of chronic hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection. We investigated, in a clinical trial, the capacity of this agent to reconstitute protective immunity in patients with chronic HBV infection. Methods: We performed a prospective study of 28 patients with suppression of HBV infection by nucleos(t)ide analogue therapy and who tested negative for hepatitis B e antigen at 4 medical centers in Italy. Patients were randomly assigned (1:3:3:3) to groups given placebo or different doses of GS-9620 (1, 2, and 4 mg, weekly for 12 weeks). We added data from 8 patients receiving nucleos(t)ide analogue therapy to the placebo group (controls); 13 treatment-naïve patients with chronic HBV infection and 15 subjects who spontaneously recovered from an acute HBV infection served as additional controls. Peripheral blood mononuclear cells were collected at baseline, during administration of GS-9620 or placebo, and 12 weeks afterward. Phenotype and function of natural killer (NK) and HBV-specific T cells were analyzed by flow cytometry. T cells were expanded by incubation with peptides from the entire HBV proteome and studied after overnight or 10 days culture. NK-cell inhibition of T-cell responses was measured by assessing cytokine production by T cells stimulated with peptides in the presence or absence of NK cells. Results: T cells collected at baseline before addition of GS-9620, when patients were receiving only nucleos(t)ide therapy, had greater responses to HBV than T cells from treatment-naïve patients, based on cytokine production in response to HBV peptides. However, during or after administration of GS-9620, T cells produced higher levels of cytokines compared to baseline. NK-cell activation and function increased after patients were given GS-9620, but the ability of NK cells to suppress T-cell responses was lower during GS-9620 therapy than before. Changes in T-cell or NK-cell function did not correlate with levels of hepatitis B surface antigen. Serum levels of hepatitis B surface antigen did not decrease significantly compared to baseline in patients given any dose of GS-9620. Conclusions: Twelve weeks administration of GS-9620 had no significant effect on serum hepatitis B surface antigen levels, but did appear to increase T-cell and NK-cell responses and reduce the ability of NK to suppress T cells. GS-9620 might therefore be included in therapies to increase the immune response to HBV.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1764-1777.e7
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - May 1 2018


  • Clinical Trial
  • Immune Regulation
  • T-Cell Inhibition
  • Viral Hepatitis Treatment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Gastroenterology


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