Chronic hepatitis C virus infection can be associated with mixed cryoglobulinemia and systemic vasculitis. The pathogenesis remains poorly understood. 55 consecutive patients with chronic HCI infection (anti-HCV- and serum HCV RNA-positive) were studies prospectively. Cryoglobulinemia was detected in 28 patients (51%) with a mean cryocrit level of 2.2%. Clinical symptoms of vasculitis were encountered in six patients. Compared to those HCV-infected patients without cryoglobulinemia the following distinctive features were observed in the presence of cryoglobulinemia: increased age (p<0.02), female preponderance (p<0.002), longer-lasting HCV infection (mean of 10.7 vs. 4.7 yrs), higher prevalence of cirrhosis (42.8 vs. 0%), increased serum concentration of IgM and increased rheumatoid factor activity, decreased concentration of serum C4 (each p<0.05). The response to interferon treatment was similar in patients with and without cryoglobulinemia. When cryoprecipitates were analyzed by immunofixation, type II cryoglobulinemia was present in 1/3 and type III in 2/3 of patients. By SDS-PAGE four different proteins were demonstrable in cryoprecipitates each identified by immunoblotting as IgG and IgM heavy or light chains respectively. Cryoprecipitate IgGs were shown to react with HCV structural as well a non-structural proteins in a recombinant immunoblotting assay (RIBA). In contrast, cryoprecipitate IgMs reacted only to the HCV core protein c22-3. HCV RNA was detected in cryoprecipitates without a significant enrichment when compared to the corresponding serum or supernatant HCV RNA content. Given the monoclonality of some cryoprecipitate IgM and their reactivity to HCV core, a cross-reactivity to IgG was postulated. In fact, when performing a computer-assisted search for sequence homology, a motif within the core protein (EGLGWAGWL, conserved in HCV genotypes) was identified homologous to a sequence of IgG heavy chains. Thus, temperature-dependent affinity changes of IgM anti-HCV core (nonapeptide) and ensuing complex formation with IgG via binding to the homologous IgG sequence could be a mechanism of cryoprecipitate formation.