Different genotypes of hepatitis C virus (HCV) have been shown to have distinct geographical distribution and to associate with variable clinical features. To evaluate their role in chronic hepatitis in Italian patients, we studied 495 consecutive cases with chronic hepatitis C seen in nine sentinel centres homogeneously distributed over Italy. HCV genotyping was carried out using a dot-blot hybridization assay with genotype-specific probes. Four hundred and eleven patients were viraemic and could be evaluated: 57% were found to be infected with HCV-1, 31% with HCV-2, 8% with HCV-3, 1% showed mixed infection and 3% were ascribed to HCV-2b or HCV-4 by direct sequencing. Geographical distribution showed discrete territorial variations. A history of drug addiction was commoner in patients infected with HCV-3. There were no significant differences in activity of liver disease among different HCV genotypes but the response to interferon therapy was reduced in patients infected with HCV-1 compared to HCV-2 or HCV-3.