Chronic HBV (CHB) infection suppresses virus-specific T cells, but its impact on humoral immunity has been poorly analyzed. Here, we developed a dual staining method, which utilizes HBsAg labelled with fluorochromes as “baits”, for specific ex vivo detection of HBsAg-specific B cells and analysis of their quantity, function and phenotype. We studied healthy vaccinated subjects (n=18) and patients with resolved (n=21), acute (n=11) or chronic (n=96) HBV infection and observed that frequencies of circulating HBsAg-specific B cells are independent of the HBV infection status. In contrast, serum HBsAg presence affects function and phenotype of HBsAg-specific B cells that were unable to mature in vitro into antibody-secreting cells and displayed an increased expression of markers linked to hyperactivation (CD21low) and exhaustion (PD-1). Importantly, B cell alterations were not limited to HBsAg-specific B cells but affected the global B cell population. HBsAg-specific B cell maturation could be partially restored by a method involving the combination of IL-2, IL-21 and CD40L-expressing feeder cells, and further boosted by addition of anti-PD-1 antibodies.In conclusion, HBV infection has a marked impact on global and HBV-specific humoral immunity, yet HBsAg-specific B cells are amenable to a partial rescue by B cell maturing cytokines and PD-1 blockade.
Loghman Salimzadeh, Nina Le Bert, Charles-A. Dutertre, Upkar S. Gill, Evan W. Newell, Christian Frey, Magdeleine Hung, Nikolai Novikov, Simon Fletcher, Patrick T.F. Kennedy, Antonio Bertoletti