Hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis (HLH) and related disorders

Alexandra H Filipovich
Hematology—the Education Program of the American Society of Hematology 2009, : 127-31
Hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis (HLH), which has many genetic causes, is characterized by multi-system inflammation. HLH is a reactive process resulting from prolonged and excessive activation of antigen presenting cells (macrophages, histiocytes) and CD8(+) T cells. Hemophagocytosis, which is mediated through the CD163 heme-scavenging receptor, is a hallmark of activated macrophages/histiocytes and is the characteristic finding for which the disorder was named. The majority of genetic causes identified to date affect the cytotoxic function of NK and T cells, crippling immunologic mechanisms that mediate natural immune contraction. The predominant clinical findings of HLH are fevers (often hectic and persistent), cytopenias, hepatitis and splenomegaly. Due to the life-threatening implications of the diagnosis of genetically determined HLH, antiinflammatory therapy, often consisting of steroids, etoposide or antithymocyte globulin (ATG), should be instituted promptly, followed by curative hematopoietic cell transplantation. Secondary HLH, associated with autoimmune disorders or viral infections in teens and adults, also carries a significant mortality rate and should be managed in consultation with specialists familiar with the diagnosis and treatment of such disorders.

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