Cryoglobulinemia and hepatatrophic viruses



Essential mixed cryoglobulinemia is frequently associated with chronic hepatitis. This report presents four cases of cryoglobulinemia with vasculitis associated with chronic hepatitis related to hepatitis C virus infection. Hepatitis C virus infection was ascertained in the four patients by both the presence in the serum of anti-HCV antibodies detected by the fourantigen recombinant immunoblot assay and of HCV RNA detected by polymerase chain reaction. In two patients tested, anti-HCV antibodies were not detected after centrifugation in the purified cryoglobulin but were detected in the supernatant. HCV RNA was detected in the purified cryoglobulin in all four patients and was detected in the supernatant in three patients. In one patient receiving recombinant interferon alfa, serum aminotransferases normalized and cryoglobulin disappeared; in another patient receiving recombinant interferon alfa, serum aminotransferases remained high and the cryoglobulin persisted. The presence of HCV RNA in the cryoglobulin and the parallelism of the changes of the cryoglobulinemia and of the serum aminotransferases during recombinant interferon alfa administration suggest that HCV infection is responsible for the production of cryoglobulinemia and vasculitis. It is proposed that HCV infection is a cause of cryoglobulinemia associated with chronic hepatitis.

Background. Type II cryoglobulinemia is a vasculitis characterized by cryoglobulins consisting of complexes of polyclonal IgG and monoclonal IgM rheumatoid factors. The cause of these immune complexes is unknown, though both the hepatitis B (HBV) and C (HCV) viruses have been suspected.

Methods. We studied 19 patients with Type II cryoglobulinemia for markers of HCV and HBV infection. Quantitative HCV antibody and RNA studies were performed on whole serum, cryoprecipitates, and supernatants.

Results. Eight patients (42 percent) had HCV antibodies, and 16 (84 percent) had HCV RNA. Of the 19 patients, 5 (26 percent) had HBV markers, but only 1 had evidence of active HBV infection. Control serum samples from nine patients with Type I cryoglobulinemia were negative for HCV antibody and HCVRNA. There was a close, although not exclusive, association of one type of rheumatoid factor (WA) with HCV RNA. HCV antibody and HCV RNA were concentrated approximately 10-fold and 1000-fold, respectively, in the Type II cryoglobulins examined.

Conclusions. Type II cryoglobulinemia is strongly associated with concomitant HCV infection and a high rate of false negative serologic tests. HCV virions and HCV antigen-antibody complexes are concentrated in the cryoprecipitates, most commonly in association with the WA type of rheumatoid factor, suggesting a role for HCV in the pathogenesis of mixed cryoglobulinemia.