Objective: Circumstances predisposing hepatitis C virus (HCV)-infected patients to develop mixed cryoglobulinemia (MC), which may manifest as a small-vessel systemic vasculitis (MC vasculitis), remain unclear. Previous studies have failed to demonstrate a clear role of either viral factors (genotype, viral load) or host factors (lymphocytes or immunoglobulin subsets). This study was undertaken to examine a possible role of HLA class II alleles in HCV-associated MC.
Methods: One hundred fifty-eight HCV-infected patients, of whom 76 had MC (56 with type II MC and 20 with type III MC) and 82 did not have MC, were studied prospectively. MC vasculitis was noted in 35 HCV-infected patients with type II IgMkappa-containing cryoglobulins. HLA-DRB1 and HLA-DQB1 polymorphism was analyzed by hybridization using allele-specific oligonucleotides, after gene amplification. The odds ratio (OR) was calculated with Woolf's method. Then, using multivariate analysis, demographic, biologic, immunologic, virologic, and liver histologic factors associated with the presence of MC and MC vasculitis were investigated.
Results: HLA-DR11 was significantly more frequent in patients with type II MC than in those without MC (41.1% versus 17.1%; OR 3.4, corrected P [Pcorr] = 0.017), regardless of the presence of vasculitis accompanying the MC (37.1% of those with MC vasculitis, 34.1% of those with MC but no vasculitis). HLA-DR7 was less frequent in HCV-infected patients with MC than in those without MC (13.2% versus 30.5%; OR 0.34, P = 0.012, Pcorr not significant), with a particularly lower frequency in those with type II MC and those with MC vasculitis (12.5% and 8.6%, respectively). There was no significant difference in HLA-DQB1 distribution between the different patient groups. By univariate and multivariate analysis, HLA-DR11 was the only positive predictive factor, besides female sex and advanced age, for the presence of MC and HCV-associated MC vasculitis (OR 2.58).
Conclusion: Our results indicate that the presence of the DR11 phenotype is associated with a significantly increased risk for the development of type II MC in patients with chronic HCV infection. In contrast, HLA-DR7 appears to protect against the production of type II MC. These results suggest that the host's immune response genes may play a role in the pathogenesis of HCV-associated MC.