Clonal expansions of IgM-producing B cells were investigated in 38 patients with a chronic hepatitis C virus infection. Eight patients were affected with type II mixed cryoglobulinaemia (two of whom also had non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and one had Waldenström's disease), one with type III mixed cryoglobulinaemia, one with Waldenström's disease, and 28 with chronic liver disease. To detect the clonal B-cell expansions we used a RT/PCR procedure in which the CDR3/FW4 regions of the IgM heavy chain mRNAs were amplified and resolved in sequencing polyacrylamide gels. Clonal Ig gene rearrangements were detected in all patients with type II mixed cryoglobulinaemia and also at a high frequency (24%) in the HCV-infected patients without cryoglobulinaemia. A polyclonal pattern was present in the patient with type III mixed cryoglobulinaemia and in the 15 normal individuals and 16 age-related patients with HCV-negative alcoholic liver disease which were investigated as controls. No association was found between the presence of a clonal B-cell expansion and age, sex, liver histology, or levels of serum aminotransferase. The serum levels of rheumatoid factor were increased in all patients with a clonal expansion, suggesting that the expanded B-cell clones belong to the rheumatoid factor producing B-cell subset.