Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 2016 09 06113(38) 10684-9 doi 10.1073/pnas.1602337113
Chronic hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection is characterized by exhaustion of virus-specific T-cells and stable viremia. Pregnancy is an exception. Viremia gradually climbs during gestation but sometimes declines sharply in the months following delivery. Here, we demonstrated that postpartum HCV control was associated with enhanced virus-specific T-cell immunity. Women with viral load declines of at least 1 log10 between the third trimester and 3-mo postpartum exhibited HCV-specific T-cell responses of greater breadth (P = 0.0052) and magnitude (P = 0.026) at 3-mo postpartum than women who failed to control viremia. Moreover, viral dynamics were consistent in women after consecutive pregnancies, suggesting genetic underpinnings. We therefore searched for genetic associations with human leukocyte antigen (HLA) alleles and IFN-λ3 gene (IFNL3) polymorphisms that influence HCV infection outcome. Postpartum viral control was associated with the IFNL3 rs12979860 genotype CC (P = 0.045 at 6 mo) that predicts a positive response to IFN-based therapy. Suppression of virus replication after pregnancy was also strongly influenced by the HLA class II DPB1 locus. HLA-DPB1 alleles are classified by high and low patterns of expression. Carriage of at least one high-expression HLA-DPB1 allele predicted resurgent virus-specific T-cell immunity and viral control at 3-mo postpartum (P = 0.0002). When considered together in multivariable analysis, IFNL3 and HLA-DPB1 independently affected viral control at 3- and 6-mo postpartum. Together, these findings support a model where spontaneous control of HCV such as sometimes follows pregnancy is governed by genetic polymorphisms that affect type III IFN signaling and virus-specific cellular immune responses.