Inverse association between hepatic stellate cell apoptosis and fibrosis in chronic hepatitis C virus infection
Hepatic Stellate Cells
Hepatitis C, Chronic
Perisinusoidal hepatic stellate cells (HSC) are the principal fibrogenic cells in the liver. In animal models, HSC apoptosis is the predominant clearance mechanism of activated HSC, although data evaluating whether the same processes occur in humans are limited. We conducted a cross-sectional study to evaluate the association between HSC apoptosis and fibrosis stage in subjects with chronic hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection (n = 44) and HCV-negative controls with normal liver histology (n = 9). We used immunohistochemical techniques to identify activated (alpha-smooth muscle actin+), proliferative (Ki-67+) and apoptotic (terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase [TdT]-mediated dUTP nick end-labelling+) HSC in liver biopsy specimens from all subjects. The same pathologist enumerated positive cells per high-power field (HPF, x 200) in 20 periportal/lobular areas. HSC apoptosis was decreased in HCV-positive subjects compared with controls (median 0.4, range 0.0-3.1 vs 1.1, 0.2-3.5 cells/HPF, P = 0.02). Among HCV-positive subjects, HSC apoptosis was decreased in those with moderate to advanced fibrosis (P = 0.04) compared with those with mild fibrosis. By multivariate analysis, HSC apoptosis decreased by an average of 0.14 cells/HPF (95% confidence interval 0.01-0.28 cells/HPF) per increase in fibrosis stage (P = 0.04). While the number of activated and proliferative HSC was significantly increased in HCV-infected subjects compared with that in uninfected controls, the numbers of these cells did not differ between HCV-infected subjects with mild vs moderate/advanced fibrosis. In conclusion, the number of apoptotic HSC was significantly decreased in HCV-infected subjects with advanced fibrosis. In chronic HCV infection, inhibition of HSC apoptosis may be one mechanism by which fibrosis progresses.