<p>Abstract</p> <p>Spontaneous clearance of hepatitis C virus (HCV) has frequently been associated with the presence of HCV-specific cellular immunity. However, there had been also reports in chimpanzees demonstrating clearance of HCV-viremia in the absence of significant levels of detectable HCV-specific cellular immune responses. We here report seven asymptomatic acute hepatitis C cases with peak HCV-RNA levels between 300 and 100.000 copies/ml who all cleared HCV-RNA spontaneously. Patients were identified by a systematic screening of 1176 consecutive new incoming offenders in a German young offender institution. Four of the seven patients never developed anti-HCV antibodies and had normal ALT levels throughout follow-up. Transient weak HCV-specific CD4+ T cell responses were detectable in five individuals which did not differ in strength and breadth from age- and sex-matched patients with chronic hepatitis C and long-term recovered patients. In contrast, HCV-specific MHC-class-I-tetramer-positive cells were found in 3 of 4 HLA-A2-positive patients. Thus, these cases highlight that clearance of low levels of HCV viremia is possible in the absence of a strong adaptive immune response which might explain the low seroconversion rate after occupational exposure to HCV.</p
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