In this study we aimed to determine whether serum B-lymphocyte activating factor (BAFF) level is increased in patients with chronic hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection, and to assess its association with HCV-related autoimmunity. Sixty-five patients with chronic HCV infection were compared with two disease control groups [57 patients with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) and 15 with chronic hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection] and a healthy control group of 35 individuals. A special attention was given to HCV-related arthralgia and or vasculitis. Serum BAFF was assessed in all studied individuals, whereas rheumatoid factor (RF), anti-cardiolipin antibodies (aCL), and cryoglobulins were determined in HCV and HBV infected patients, and anti-dsDNA antibodies and aCL were assessed in patients with SLE. Mean serum BAFF was increased in patients with HCV infection and SLE (2.4 +/- 0.8 ng/ml and 3.1 +/- 1.34 ng/ml respectively) compared to 1.1 +/- 0.14 ng/ml in patients with HBV; and to 1.1 +/- 0.27 in healthy controls (all, p <0.0001). The elevation in serum BAFF was associated with HCV-related arthralgia and or vasculitis (p <0.0001), and with the presence of aCL and of cryoglobulins. HBV patients lacked features suggestive of autoimmunity. In SLE patients, elevated serum BAFF was in association with the presence of anti-dsDNA (p = 0.002). As in other autoimmune diseases, increased serum BAFF was also found in patients with chronic HCV infection. Elevated serum BAFF levels were associated with clinical and laboratory features of autoimmunity, suggesting that BAFF may play a role in HCV-related autoimmunity. (c) 2006 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.