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Peripheral neuropathy in hepatitis C virus infection with and without cryoglobulinaemia
  1. R Nemni1,
  2. L Sanvito1,
  3. A Quattrini2,
  4. G Santuccio1,
  5. M Camerlingo3,
  6. N Canal1
  1. 1Department of Neurorehabilitation, IRCCS Don C Gnocchi Foundation, University of Milan, Italy
  2. 2Department of Neurology, IRCCS S Raffaele, Milan, Italy
  3. 3Department of Neurology, Ospedali Riuniti, Bergamo, Italy
  1. Correspondence to:
 Professor R Nemni, Department of Neurorehabilitation, IRCCS Don C Gnocchi Foundation, Via Capecelatro 66, Milan 20148, Italy; 


Objectives: Hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection is often associated with cryoglobulinaemia (CG). Peripheral neuropathy (PN) is a comparatively common complication of CG associated with HCV infection and it is thought to be attributable to nerve ischaemia. Only few HCV CG patients with PN have been reported. The recent finding of HCV RNA in nerve biopsy specimens has suggested a possible direct role of HCV in the pathogenesis of PN. The authors studied 51 HCV patients to determine the prevalence of CG and to clarify the possible mechanism by which HCV determines the PN.

Methods: All the patients were studied clinically, by laboratory tests and electrophysiologically. Twenty eight patients underwent sural nerve biopsy where both morphological and morphometric evaluation of the biopsy specimen was performed, as well as statistical analysis.

Results: CG was found in 40 of 51 cases (78%). Polyneuropathy was significantly prevalent in CG+ patients compared with CG− (18 of 40 compared with 1 of 11 patients; p=0.01). HCV CG− patients more frequently developed well defined mononeuropathy or multiple neuropathy when compared with HCV CG+ (10 of 11 compared with 22 of 40; p<0.03). HCV CG+ patients showed significantly higher proportion of rheumatoid factor positivity (p<0.001) and low C4 levels (p=0.001). Nerve biopsy was performed in 25 of 40 HCV CG+ patients and in 3 of 11 HCV CG− patients: epineurial vasculitis was present in 8 of 25 HCV CG+ (32%) and in 2 of 3 HCV CG−. Differential fascicular loss of axons was found in 10 of 25 CG+ (40%) and 1 of 3 CG−, signs of both demyelination and axonal degeneration were present in 7 of 25 CG+ (28%). No significant difference was found in neuropathological features, while histometrical analysis disclosed more severe involvement in CG+ patients.

Conclusions: These findings suggest that the presence of CG is a negative predictive factor for the associated PN. Morphological findings in the sural nerve from HCV CG− and CG+ are consistent with an ischaemic mechanism of nerve damage and are against a direct role of the virus in causing the associated PN.

  • complement
  • cryoglobulinaemia
  • hepatitis C virus
  • neuropathy
  • vasculitis
  • CG, cryoglobulinaemia
  • HCV, hepatitis C virus
  • PN, polyneuropathy
  • SCV, sensory conduction velocity
  • SAV, sensory action potential
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  • Competing interests: none declared.

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