Hepatitis B virus (HBV) reactivation and recurrence are common in patients undergoing immunosuppression therapy. Tumor necrosis factor (TNF) blockage therapy is effective for the treatment of many autoimmune inflammatory diseases. However, the role of TNF-α blockage therapy in the innate and adaptive immune responses against HBV is still not clear. A detailed analysis of HBV infection under TNF-α blockage therapy is essential for the prophylaxis and therapy for HBV reactivation and recurrence. In this study, HBV clearance and T-cell responses were analyzed in a HBV-transfected mouse model under anti-TNF blockage therapy. Our results demonstrated that under TNF-α blockage therapy, HBV viral clearance was impaired with persistent elevated HBV viral load in a dose- and temporal-dependent manner. The impairment of HBV clearance under anti-TNF-α blockage therapy occurred at early time points after HBV infection. In addition, TNF-α blockade maintained a higher serum HBV viral load and increased the number of intrahepatic programmed cell death (PD)-1 high CD127 low exhausted T cells. Furthermore, TNF-α blockade abolished Toll-like receptor 9 (TLR9) ligand-induced facilitation of HBV viral clearance. Taken together, TNF-α blockade impairs HBV clearance and enhances viral load, and these effects depend on early administration after HBV infection. Our results here demonstrate that early TNF-α blockade reduces viral clearance and persistently maintains elevated HBV viral load in a mouse model, suggesting that HBV may reactivate during therapy with TNF-α-blocking agents.
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