Hepatitis C virus (HCV) represents the major risk factor for mixed cryoglobulinemia (MC), a small-vessel vasculitis that may evolve into an overt B-cell non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Here, we aimed to identify a biomarker signature for the early diagnosis of minimal residual disease (MRD). We assessed free light chains (FLCs), IgMk and IgMλ heavy-light chain (HLC) pairs, and vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) in sera from 34 patients with MC vasculitis (32 HCV- and 2 HBV-related), treated with low-dose rituximab (RTX). FLCs and IgM HLCs were measured by turbidimetric assay; VEGF by an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay. After RTX, the positive (complete + partial) clinical and laboratory responses were of 85.29% and 50% respectively; in contrast, the mean levels of FLCs, IgM HLCs and VEGF were substantially unaffected in most patients and still above the normal range. In those achieving a reduction of FLCs and IgM k and λ chains values within the range of normality, we found that post-treatment free λ chains and IgM k values correlated with clinical and laboratory response. Our results suggest that high levels of FLCs, IgM HLCs and VEGF could represent the signature of "dormant" B cell clones' activity that could be very useful to identify MRD indicative of possible relapse or worsening outcome.
- IgM heavy/light chains
- free light chains
- minimal residual disease
- mixed cryoglobulinemia
- vascular endothelial growth factor