• hepatitis C virus;
  • bcl-2 translocation

An association between chronic hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection and clonal proliferation of B cells, including B cell lymphoma, has recently been demonstrated. However, the mechanism of malignant transformation is still unknown. It has been shown that B cells from patients with type II mixed cryoglobulinaemia (MC), strongly express the antiapoptotic bcl-2 oncogene product. Therefore, we investigated a possible mechanism of lymphomagenesis, the occurrence of bcl-2 and immunoglobulin gene rearrangement (IgH) in HCV-infected patients. Three groups of patients were studied: (1) 44 patients with HCV and MC (anti-HCV and HCV RNA positive); (2) 59 patients with chronic HCV infection without MC; (3) 50 patients with chronic liver disease (CLD) not related to HCV infection. The t(14;18) translocation (MBR bcl-2–JH) and IgH rearrangement (FR3/JH) were detected by polymerase chain reaction (PCR) in peripheral mononuclear cells. bcl-2 translocation was detected in 17/44 (39%), 7/59 (12%) and in none of the patients of groups 1, 2 and 3 respectively (P < 0·01). Monoclonal IgH rearrangement was detected in 15/44 (34%), 5/59 (8·5%) and 2/50 (4%) patients of groups 1, 2 and 3 respectively (P < 0·05). HCV-infected patients had a higher prevalence of monoclonal IgH rearrangement and bcl-2 translocation than patients with CLD of other aetiologies. These data suggest that HCV may play a role in the multistep mechanism of lymphomagenesis by inducing clonal proliferation of B cells and inhibition of apoptosis.