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Keywords:

  • hepatitis C virus;
  • mixed cryoglobulinaemia;
  • T cells;
  • lymphocytes

The aim of this study was to investigate the peripheral blood lymphocyte (PBL) phenotypes and T cell repertoire in patients with HCV infection, with or without mixed cryoglobulinaemia (MC). The patients were: Group 1, 23 patients with HCV infection and MC; Group 2, 14 patients with HCV infection but without MC; Group 3, 10 patients with symptomatic essential MC. Twenty healthy blood donors were used as controls. Blood lymphocyte counts were determined, and flow cytometry was used to measure proportions of B cells (CD19+), natural killer (NK) cells (CD16+ CD56+), T cells (CD3+), CD4+ T cell subsets (memory CD4+ CD45RO+; naive CD4+ CD45RO; Th0/Th2 CD4+ CD7; activated CD4+ CD25+), and CD8+ T cell subsets (immunoregulatory CD8+ CD57+; cytotoxic CD8+ S6F1+, activated CD8+ CD25+). Bias in the usage of T cell receptor (TCR) Vβ chains was studied in a subgroup of 10 representative patients of Group 1 using a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) analysis of the Vβ segments with a series of 20 oligonucleotides specific for the Vβ families. The three groups were comparable for blood lymphocyte counts, and we observed no abnormal repartition of the following PBL subsets: T cells (CD3+), CD4+ and CD8+ subpopulations, B cells (CD19+), and the NK cells (CD16+ 56+). In none of the groups could we observe lymphocyte ex vivo activation as assessed by the normal expression of the activation cell markers: CD25 on CD4+ or CD8+ T cells, or CD5 on B cells. The repartition of naive and memory (CD45RO/RO+) CD4+ T cells was normal and we did not observe any amplification of the CD4+ CD7 T cell subset differentiated in vivo in Th0/Th2 cells. There was no significant amplification of cytotoxic (SF6+) and immunoregulatory (CD57+) CD8+ T cells in HCV patients with or without MC. Finally, the usage of Vβ families in the TCR repertoire was normal in the patients tested. In patients with chronic HCV infection, with or without MC, we did not find any significant expansion or abnormal activation of T, B and NK cell subsets, dysbalance of the naive/memory subsets, or expansion of the Th0/Th2 subpopulation. These findings differ from the profound immune alterations that are observed in other chronic infections such as HIV or Epstein–Barr virus. Although this study was restricted to the peripheral blood, it suggests that in chronic HCV infection, MC is not the consequence of a chronic activation or dysregulation of the peripheral blood immune cells.