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Keywords:

  • Cryoglobulinemia;
  • hepatitis C virus (HCV);
  • lymphoproliferation;
  • rheumatoid factor (RF)

Cryoglobulins are cold-precipitable immunoglobulins associated with a number of infectious, autoimmune and neoplastic disorders. Their appearance along with rheumatoid factor (RF) can be considered a normal event in the clearance of immune complexes and rarely produces any symptoms. The association between hepatitis C virus (HCV) and mixed cryoglobulinemia (MC) has been rendered evident since the recognition of serological markers of HCV infection. There is thus every reason to suppose that direct or indirect involvement of B cells on the part of the HCV results in their persistent stimulation, clonal expansion and release of molecules with RF activity. The formation of RF/IgG immune complexes is the key pathogenetic mechanism. The close correlation between HCV infection and MC also throws new light on the interpretation of autoimmune phenomena in the course of viral infection and on the close link between autoimmune diseases and lymphoproliferative disorders. The higher risk of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (NHL) displayed by HCV positive subjects, especially in the Mediterranean basin, suggests that the HCV's chronic lymphoproliferative drive may progress towards frank lymphoid neoplasia. The presence of MC does not represent an in situ or ‘occult’ NHL, because recent evidences indicate that none of the clones interpreted as predominant displays the molecular features of a true neoplastic process. The cryoglobulinemic syndrome is probably the consequence of pathogenic noxae that act upon the immune system of a host in which regulation of the peripheral T cell response appears to be in some way altered.