Hepatitis C virus-associated mixed cryoglobulinemia. Clinical manifestations, histopathological changes, mechanisms of cryoprecipitation and options of treatment
Chronic hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection is frequently associated with a variety of autoimmune phenomenons. Mixed cryoglobulinemia (MC) appears in up t o 50% o f chronic HCV-infected patients. Cryoglobulins consist of immunoglobulin complexes precipitating in vitro when cooled below body temperature. In most cases IgM with rheumatoid factor activity is found in cryoprecipitates which could lead to vasculitis induced by the deposition of immnuocomplexes in small vessels. This vasculitis is thought to cause clinical symptoms called Meltzer's triad. This triad is represented by purpura, arthralgia and weakness. One third of patients suffering from HCV-associated mixed cryoglobulinemia are developing typical symptoms during their course of disease.
The striking association between HCV infection and MC has conduced to the hypothesis that HCV is of major importance in the production of MC with followed vasculitis.
Both hepatrophism and lymphotrophism have been reported for the hepatitis C virus. Infection of B-cells by HCV could probably lead to a bcl-2 translocation and immunoglobulin gene rearrangement which results in clonal lymphoproliferation and in synthesis of monoclonal IgM with rheumatoid factor activity. These IgM form immunocomplexes with IgG in the cold, which are finally responsible for the described vasculitis.
Histopathological changes of the liver are dominated by chronic HCV infection. The majority of times mild activity of hepatitis or mild fibrosis could be found. Nevertheless, cirrhosis is more often found in HCVinfected patients suffering from MC compared to patients without MC.
Conventional treatment of MC is aimed to reduce circulating immune complexes by immunosupression and plasmapheresis. With the emerging concept of a viral pathogenesis the therapeutic approach has changed during the last decade. Interferon treatment of MC, particularly of HCV-associated MC is well established nowadays.