OBJECTIVES: Alcoholic hepatitis (AH) develops in approximately 30% of chronic heavy drinkers. The immune system of patients with AH is hyperactivated, yet ineffective against infectious diseases. Mucosal-associated invariant T (MAIT) cells are innate-like lymphocytes that are highly enriched in liver, mucosa, and peripheral blood and contribute to antimicrobial immunity. We aimed to determine whether MAIT cells were dysregulated in heavy drinkers with and without AH and the effects of alcohol abstinence on MAIT cell recovery. METHODS: MR1 tetramers loaded with a potent MAIT cell ligand 5-(2-oxopropylideneamino)-6-dribitylaminouracil were used in multiparameter flow cytometry to analyze peripheral blood MAIT cells in 59 healthy controls (HC), 56 patients with AH, and 45 heavy drinkers without overt liver disease (HDC) at baseline and 6- and 12-month follow-ups. Multiplex immunoassays were used to quantify plasma levels of cytokines related to MAIT cell activation. Kinetic Turbidimetric Limulus Amebocyte Lysate Assay and ELISA were performed to measure circulating levels of 2 surrogate markers for bacterial translocation (lipopolysaccharide and CD14), respectively. RESULTS: At baseline, patients with AH had a significantly lower frequency of MAIT cells than HDC and HC. HDC also had less MAIT cells than HC (median 0.16%in AH, 0.56% in HDC, and 1.25% in HC). Further, the residualMAIT cells in patients with AH expressed higher levels of activation markers (CD69, CD38, and human leukocyte antigen [HLA]-DR), the effector molecule granzyme B, and the immune exhaustion molecule PD-1. Plasma levels of lipopolysaccharide and CD14 and several cytokines related to MAIT cell activation were elevated in patients with AH (interferon [IFN]-α, interleukin [IL]-7, IL-15, IL- 17, IL-18, IL-23, IFN-γ, and tumor necrosis factor α). Decreased MAIT cell frequency and upregulated CD38, CD69, and HLA-DR correlated negatively and positively, respectively, with aspartate aminotransferase level. MAIT cell frequency negatively correlated with IL-18. HLA-DR and CD38 levels correlated with several cytokines. At follow-ups, abstinent patients with AH had increased MAIT cell frequency and decreased MAIT cell activation. However, MAIT cell frequency was not fully normalized in patients with AH (median 0.31%). DISCUSSION: We showed that HDC had a reduction of blood MAIT cells despite showing little evidence of immune activation, whereas patients with AH had a severe depletion of blood MAIT cells and the residual cells were highly activated. Alcohol abstinence partially reversed those abnormalities.
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