Objective: Type II mixed cryoglobulinemia (type II MC) is often characterized by features of indolent B cell lymphoma (IBCL) found on pathologic examination of bone marrow, whereas the clinical evidence does not indicate a neoplastic disorder. To better address the issue of indolent malignant versus nonmalignant bone marrow lymphoproliferation underlying type II MC, molecular analyses of B cell clonality were performed in the present study, in conjunction with clinical and pathologic characterization.
Methods: Polymerase chain reaction DNA amplification of immunoglobulin heavy chain genes was performed in bone marrow biopsy specimens obtained from 15 selected patients with type II MC, all infected with hepatitis C virus. Five of them had also developed overt B cell lymphoma (OBCL) during followup. Bone marrow features were consistent with IBCL in 9 of the 15 patients (group 1) and with reactive lymphoplasmacytosis in 6 of the 15 (group 2).
Results: An oligoclonal B cell expansion was detected in 6 of 9 baseline bone marrow lesions from group 1 patients (biclonal or monoclonal expansion in the remaining 3 cases), and in 6 of 6 from group 2 patients. OBCL was always monoclonal. Selected lesions were analyzed by clonospecific hybridization and by cloning and sequence analysis in patients who had developed OBCL at followup. In 4 of 5 cases, OBCL did not originate from the dominant B cell clones that were overexpanded in the putative neoplastic baseline bone marrow lesions. OBCL clones showed significant homology with rheumatoid factor database sequences.
Conclusion: Based on the present results, as well as on evidence from previous studies of liver lesions, oligoclonal non-neoplastic B cell proliferation in the course of chronic infection-related inflammation appears to be the key feature of type II MC. Of note, molecular evidence from target tissues supports the clinical findings both at the time of type II MC diagnosis and in cases of OBCL complication. Bone marrow pathologic findings resembling those of IBCL should thus be considered in the light of clinical and molecular evidence.