Although CD57+ lymphocytes are closely correlated with prognosis in various cancers, the role of subsets of CD57+ cells in hepatitis C virus (HCV)-related hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is unclear. In the present study, peripheral blood (PB) from HCV-related HCC patients was analyzed. Plasma cytokine levels and in vitro cytokine-producing capabilities were analyzed with enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays, and CD57+ cell subsets were studied using a multi-color FACS system. Interferon (IFN)-γ was undetectable in the plasma of patients with tumors at any stage, whereas the plasma levels of tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-α, interleukin (IL)-10 and IL-18, but not that of IL-12, were significantly higher in stage IV patients compared to patients with earlier-stage tumors. In contrast, the IFN-γ-producing capability of PB was highest in stage I patients and gradually decreased with tumor progression. The IL-10-, IL-18- and IL-12-producing capabilities of PB increased from stage I to III. However, PB-TNF-α, IL-10-and IL-18-producing capabilities were reduced in stage IV patients, probably due to repeated anti-cancer treatments. The percentage of CD4+CD57+αβTCR+ cells (CD4 +CD57+ T cells) in peripheral blood lymphocytes (PBLs) increased with tumor progression. Moreover, the percentage of CD4 +CD57+ T cells in PBLs and the ratio of CD4 +CD57+ T cells to CD4+αβTCR + cells (CD4+ T cells), but not that of CD4 +CD57+ T cells to CD57+αβTCR + cells (CD57+ T cells), showed a significant inverse correlation with PB-IFN-γ-producing capability. The present results suggest that an increase in CD4+CD57+ T cells controls the capability of PB to produce the anti-tumor cytokine IFN-γ and that PB-IFN-γ production is impaired with HCC tumor progression.
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