Liver HLA-G expression is associated with multiple clinical and histopathological forms of chronic hepatitis B virus infection
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As the mechanisms leading to the persistence of hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection are poorly understood and as the histocompatibility leucocyte antigen (HLA)-G is well described as a tolerogenic molecule, we evaluated HLA-G expression in 74 specimens of HBV liver biopsies and in 10 specimens obtained from previously healthy cadaver liver donors. HBV specimens were reviewed and classified by the METAVIR score, and HLA-G expression was assessed by immunohistochemistry. No HLA-G expression was observed in control hepatocytes. In contrast, 57 (77%) of 74 HBV specimens showed soluble and membrane-bound HLA-G expression in hepatocytes, biliary epithelial cells or both. No associations between the intensity of HLA-G expression and patient age or gender, HBeAg status, severity of liver fibrosis, and grade of histological findings were observed. Although significance was not reached (P = 0.180), patients exhibiting HLA-G expression presented a higher median HBV DNA viral load (105 copies/mL) than those who did not express HLA-G (103.7 copies/mL). These results indicate that HLA-G is expressed in most cases of chronic HBV infection in all stages and may play a role in the persistency of HBV infection.