Background: Type II cryoglobulinemia is a vasculitis characterized by cryoglobulins consisting of complexes of polyclonal IgG and monoclonal IgM rheumatoid factors. The cause of these immune complexes is unknown, though both the hepatitis B (HBV) and C (HCV) viruses have been suspected.
Methods: We studied 19 patients with Type II cryoglobulinemia for markers of HCV and HBV infection. Quantitative HCV antibody and RNA studies were performed on whole serum, cryoprecipitates, and supernatants.
Results: Eight patients (42 percent) had HCV antibodies, and 16 (84 percent) had HCV RNA: Of the 19 patients, 5 (26 percent) had HBV markers, but only 1 had evidence of active HBV infection. Control serum samples from nine patients with Type I cryoglobulinemia were negative for HCV antibody and HCV RNA: There was a close, although not exclusive, association of one type of rheumatoid factor (WA) with HCV RNA: HCV antibody and HCV RNA were concentrated approximately 10-fold and 1000-fold, respectively, in the Type II cryoglobulins examined.
Conclusions: Type II cryoglobulinemia is strongly associated with concomitant HCV infection and a high rate of false negative serologic tests. HCV virions and HCV antigen-antibody complexes are concentrated in the cryoprecipitates, most commonly in association with the WA type of rheumatoid factor, suggesting a role for HCV in the pathogenesis of mixed cryoglobulinemia.