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Original article
T cell dysfunction in chronic hepatitis B infection and liver cancer: evidence from transcriptome analysis
  1. Yu-Gang Wang1,
  2. Dong-Hui Zheng2,
  3. Min Shi1,
  4. Xi-Ming Xu3
  1. 1 Department of Gastroenterology, Shanghai Tongren Hospital, Shanghai Jiao Tong University School of Medicine, Shanghai, China
  2. 2 Department of Nephrology, Huai’an Second People’s Hospital and The Affiliated Huai’an Hospital of Xuzhou Medical University, Huai’an, China
  3. 3 Cancer Center, Renmin Hospital of Wuhan University, Wuhan, China
  1. Correspondence to Dr Min Shi, Department of Gastroenterology, Shanghai Tongren Hospital, Shanghai Jiao Tong University School of Medicine, Shanghai 200000, China; SM1790{at} and Dr Xi-Ming Xu, Cancer Center, Renmin Hospital of Wuhan University, Wuhan, China; Doctorxu120{at}


Background T cell dysfunction occurs in many diseases, especially in chronic virus infection and cancers. However, up to now, little is known on the distinctions in T cell exhaustion between cancer and chronic virus infection. The objective of this study is to explore the transcriptional similarities and differences in exhausted CD8 +T cell between chronic hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection and hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC).

Methods RNA sequencing was performed to compare the transcriptome of CD8 +T cells isolated from healthy donors’ blood, tumour tissues of patients with HCC and chronic HBV infected HCC patients’ paracancerous tissues. DESeq2 algorithm was used to determine differentially expressed genes. Gene ontology and Kyoto Encyclopaedia of Genes and Genomes (KEGG) pathway enrichment analysis was conducted for in-depth analysis of these differentially expressed genes.

Results A total number of 2109 and 2203 genes were differentially expressed in patients with chronic HBV infection and HCC, respectively. Comparing these two groups of differentially deregulated genes, we found that nearly half of them were shared, and these shared genes were further classified into several functional categories, such as metabolic process, binding and intracellular organelle. KEGG analysis revealed that these shared deregulated genes were involved in many important pathways such as Parkinson’s disease, oxidative phosphorylation and messenger RNA surveillance. Interestingly, we reported that chronic HBV infection specific deregulated genes were mainly enriched in graft versus host disease, allograft rejection, phenylalanine, tyrosine and tryptophan biosynthesis pathways. Whereas, HCC-specific deregulated genes were highly enriched in oxidative phosphorylation, thyroid cancer and endometrial cancer pathways.

Conclusion Our study demonstrated that T cell dysfunction associated with HCC and chronic HBV infection shares high similarities, however, each possesses its own features in terms of specific genes and signalling pathways. Uncovering the differences of T cells dysfunction would facilitate our understanding the diseases pathogenesis and developing innovative therapies in the future.

  • t cell dysfunction
  • cd8+ t cells
  • hepatocellular carcinoma
  • chronic hepatitis b virus infection

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  • Y-GW and D-HZ are joint first authors.

  • Contributors MS and X-MX designed this study. Y-GW executed the experiments and acquired the data. Y-GW, MS and X-MX all contributed to the data analysis and manuscript preparation D-HZ, Y-GW, MS and X-MX revised and final approved the manuscript.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent Not required.

  • Ethics approval Approved by Renmin Hospital of Wuhan University.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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