Alcoholic hepatitis (AH) is a severe inflammatory liver disease that develops in some heavy drinkers. The immune system in patients with AH is hyperactive and yet dysfunctional. Here, we investigated whether this immune-dysregulated state is related to the alcoholic impact on immune checkpoints (ICPs). We used multiplex immunoassays and enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay to quantify plasma levels of 18 soluble ICPs (sICPs) from 81 patients with AH, 65 heavy drinkers without liver diseases (HDCs), and 39 healthy controls (HCs) at baseline, 33 patients with AH and 32 HDCs at 6-month follow-up, and 18 patients with AH and 29 HDCs at 12-month follow-up. We demonstrated that baseline levels of 6 sICPs (soluble T-cell immunoglobulin and mucin domain 3 [sTIM-3], soluble cluster of differentiation [sCD]27, sCD40, soluble Toll-like receptor-2 [sTLR-2], soluble herpesvirus entry mediator [sHVEM], and soluble lymphotoxin-like inducible protein that competes with glycoprotein D for herpes virus entry on T cells [sLIGHT]) were up-regulated, while 11 sICPs (soluble B- and T-lymphocyte attenuator [sBTLA], sCD160, soluble cytotoxic T-lymphocyte-associated protein 4 [sCTLA-4], soluble lymphocyte-activation gene 3 [sLAG-3], soluble programmed death 1 [sPD-1], sPD ligand 1 [sPD-L1], sCD28, soluble glucocorticoid-induced tumor necrosis factor receptor-related protein [sGITR], sGITR ligand [sGITRL], sCD80, and inducible T-cell costimulator [sICOS]) were down-regulated in patients with AH compared to HDCs. The up-regulated sICPs except sLIGHT and down-regulated sCD80, sCD160, sCTLA-4, and sLAG-3 correlated positively or negatively with AH disease severity, bacterial translocation, and inflammatory factors. At follow-up, abstinent patients with AH still had higher levels of several sICPs compared to HDCs. We also compared expression of 10 membrane-bound ICPs (mICPs) on peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) from patients with AH and HCs by flow cytometry and found that several mICPs were dysregulated on blood cells from patients with AH. The function and regulation of sICPs and mICPs were studied using PBMCs from patients with AH and HCs. Recombinant sHVEM affected tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-α and interferon-γ production by T cells from patients with AH and HCs. Conclusion: Both sICPs and mICPs were dysregulated in patients with AH, and alcohol abstinence did not fully reverse these abnormalities. The HVEM axis plays a role in regulating T-cell function in patients with AH.
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