Chronic hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection has been implicated in the induction and maintenance of B-cell lymphomas. The strongest evidence for this derives from clinical observations of tumor regressions upon antiviral treatments. Here we used multiple methods to test the hypothesis that the expansion of HCV-specific B cells gives rise to lymphomas. We obtained lymphoma tissues from HCV-infected lymphoma patients, including some that later regressed upon antiviral treatments. We expressed the lymphoma B-cell receptors as soluble immunoglobulin Gs and membrane IgMs, and analyzed their reactivity with HCV proteins and with HCV virions. We confirmed previous reports that HCV-associated lymphomas use a restricted immunoglobulin variable region gene repertoire. However, we found no evidence for their binding to the HCV antigens. We conclude that most lymphomas of HCV-infected patients do not arise from B cells aimed at eliminating the virus.
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