Prolonged B cells stimulation due to the Hepatitis C virus (HCV) can result in autoimmunity, stigmatized by rising levels of cryoglobulins (CGs), the rheumatoid factor (RF), and free light chains (FLC) of immunoglobulins (Ig) associated with a range of symptoms, from their absence to severe cryoglobulinemic vasculitis and lymphoma. Here, we aimed to identify an immunological signature for the earliest stages of vasculitis when cryoprecipitate is still not detectable. We firstly analyzed the IgG subclasses, FLC, and RF in 120 HCV-RNA-positive patients divided into four groups according to the type of cryoprecipitate and symptoms: 30 asymptomatic without cryoprecipitate (No Cryo), 30 with vasculitis symptoms but without CGs that we supposed were circulating but still not detectable (Circulating), 30 type II and 30 type III mixed cryoglobulinemia (Cryo II and Cryo III, respectively). Our results revealed that patients with supposed circulating CGs displayed a pattern of serological parameters that closely resembled Cryo II and Cryo III, with a stronger similarity to Cryo II. Accordingly, we analyzed the groups of Circulating and Cryo II for their immunoglobulin heavy chain (IgH) and T-cell receptor (TCR) gene rearrangements, finding a similar mixed distribution of monoclonal, oligoclonal, and polyclonal responses compared to a control group of ten HCV-RNA-negative patients recovered from infection, who displayed a 100% polyclonal response. Our results strengthened the hypothesis that circulating CGs are the origin of symptoms in HCV-RNA-positive patients without cryoprecipitate and demonstrated that an analysis of clonal IGH and TCR rearrangements is the best option for the early diagnosis of extrahepatic complications.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)11602-11620
Number of pages19
JournalInternational Journal of Molecular Sciences
Publication statusPublished - 2023


  • FLC
  • HCV
  • IGH
  • IgG
  • IgM
  • RF
  • TCR
  • cryoglobulins
  • mixed cryoglobulinemia


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