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 that utilizes hepatitis B virus (HBV) surface antigens (HBsAg) labeled 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 were independent of HBV infection status. In contrast, the presence of serum HBsAg affected function and phenotype of HBsAg-specific B cells that were unable to mature in vitro into Ab-secreting cells and displayed an increased expression of markers linked to hyperactivation (CD21lo) 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 the cytokines IL-2 and IL-21 and CD40L-expressing feeder cells and was further boosted by the addition of anti–PD-1 Abs. 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