Hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection is associated with immune-mediated abnormalities and B-cell lymphoproliferation evolving to an overt lymphoma. Recently, CD81 was identified as an HCV receptor on B-lymphocytes, providing a mechanism by which B cells are infected and activated by the virus. In addition, expansion of CD5+ B lymphocytes was described to be associated with various non-HCV related autoimmune disorders. Therefore, we studied the possible role of peripheral B cells CD81 and CD5 over-expression in the development of HCV-related autoimmunity and their association with disease severity in chronic HCV infection. Peripheral B cells CD5 expression and mean fluorescence intensity (MFI) of CD81 were determined in 30 HCV-infected patients, 30 healthy controls and 15 patients with hepatitis B virus infection using fluorescence-activated cell scan (FACS). We have also investigated the association between peripheral CD5 and CD81 B-cell over-expression and markers of autoimmunity and disease severity in patients chronically infected by HCV. CD5+ B-cells were increased in chronic HCV infection (23·2 ± 7·2%) compared with those of healthy controls (15 ± 5·5%) (P < 0·0001) and chronic HBV infection (19 ± 3·7%) (P = 0·08). CD81 MFI was significantly higher in HCV-infected compared to HBV-infected patients and healthy controls. Both increased CD81 MFI and CD5+ B-cell expansion were associated with the production of rheumatoid factor and mixed cryoglobulins and positively correlated with HCV viral load and histological activity index. The overexpression of CD81 and the expansion of CD5+ peripheral B-cells in HCV-infected patients may possibly play a role in the development of HCV-associated autoimmunity and lymphoproliferation.