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J Immunol. 2001 Jul 1;167(1):21-9.

Molecular characterization of B cell clonal expansions in the liver of chronically hepatitis C virus-infected patients.

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  • 1Department of Biomedical Sciences and Human Oncology, Section of Internal Medicine and Clinical Oncology, University of Bari Medical School, Bari, Italy.


PCR DNA amplification of IgH genes was performed on liver biopsy samples of 42 unselected hepatitis C virus (HCV)-positive patients. Genotypic analysis and signal amplification by branched DNA were used to characterize and quantitate HCV RNA genomic sequences. Intraportal lymphoid follicle-like structures were isolated from surrounding hepatocytes by microdissection technique. IgH VDJ PCR products were cloned and sequenced. IgH VDJ gene rearrangements were detected in the liver of 26 (62%) patients. Unequivocal monoclonal or oligoclonal patterns of B cell expansions were found in 14 (33.3%) and 12 (28.6%) patients, respectively. Patients with intrahepatic B cell monoclonal expansions showed liver HCV RNA levels higher than those with oligoclonal or polyclonal features (1106.4 +/- 593.5 vs 677.3 +/- 424.3 vs 406.2 +/- 354.3 pg HCV RNA/g tissue; p = 0.048 and p = 0.001, respectively). Although a single dominant band was obtained with total DNA, characterization of DNA recovered from intraportal inflammatory aggregates resulted in the detection of multiple IgH VDJ gene rearrangements, pointing to an oligoclonal pattern of lymphoproliferation. Cloning and sequence analyses showed that B cell clonalities were differently distributed in adjacent portal tracts of the same liver area. In addition, HCV RNA genomic sequences could be consistently amplified from each of the portal inflammatory aggregates examined. These data support the concept that in chronic HCV infection the intrahepatic B cell repertoire is frequently clonally restricted and that HCV may have a direct role in sustaining in situ B cell proliferation.

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