A striking association between hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection and mixed cryoglobulinemia (MC) has been shown; thus, HCV seems to play an important etiopathogenetic role in this lymphoproliferative disorder. Because HCV is both a hepatotropic and lymphotropic virus, this study aimed to investigate the prevalence of HCV infection of peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) in a series of 16 patients with type II (IgMk) MC. Antibodies against HCV were detected by commercially available kits (Second Generation Chiron enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay [ELISA] and recombinant-based immunoblot assay [RIBA]), and the presence of HCV RNA was evaluated in both sera and isolated PBMCs using the polymerase chain reaction technique. A previous exposure to HCV was shown by ELISA and confirmed by RIBA in all cases (100%). Moreover, HCV RNA was present in the sera of 8 of 16 patients (50%), whereas its frequency markedly increased (13 of 16 [81%]) when genomic sequences were detected in peripheral lymphocytes. HCV RNA was never detected in the PBMCs of 20 control subjects. These findings showed that HCV infection, alone or in combination with other factors, may be responsible for the clonal B-cell expansion underlying the systemic manifestations of MC, and may explain the appearance of a malignant non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in some subjects.
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