Atypical familial hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis due to mutations in UNC13D and STXBP2 overlaps with primary immunodeficiency diseases

Jan Rohr, Karin Beutel, Andrea Maul-Pavicic, Thomas Vraetz, Jens Thiel, Klaus Warnatz, Ilka Bondzio, Ute Gross-Wieltsch, Michael Schündeln, Barbara Schütz, Wilhelm Woessmann, Andreas H Groll, Brigitte Strahm, Julia Pagel, Carsten Speckmann, Gritta Janka, Gillian Griffiths, Klaus Schwarz, Udo zur Stadt, Stephan Ehl
Haematologica 2010, 95 (12): 2080-7

BACKGROUND: Familial hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis is a genetic disorder of lymphocyte cytotoxicity that usually presents in the first two years of life and has a poor prognosis unless treated by hematopoietic stem cell transplantation. Atypical courses with later onset and prolonged survival have been described, but no detailed analysis of immunological parameters associated with typical versus atypical forms of familial hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis has been performed.

DESIGN AND METHODS: We analyzed disease manifestations, NK-cell and T-cell cytotoxicity and degranulation, markers of T-cell activation and B-cell differentiation as well as Natural Killer T cells in 8 patients with atypical familial hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis due to mutations in UNC13D and STXBP2.

RESULTS: All but one patient with atypical familial hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis carried at least one splice-site mutation in UNC13D or STXBP2. In most patients episodes of hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis were preceded or followed by clinical features typically associated with immunodeficiency, such as chronic active Epstein Barr virus infection, increased susceptibility to bacterial infections, granulomatous lung or liver disease, encephalitis or lymphoma. Five of 8 patients had hypogammaglobulinemia and reduced memory B cells. Most patients had a predominance of activated CD8(+) T cells and low numbers of Natural Killer T cells. When compared to patients with typical familial hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis, NK-cell cytotoxicity and NK-cell and CTL degranulation were impaired to a similar extent. However, in patients with an atypical course NK-cell degranulation could be partially reconstituted by interleukin-2 and cytotoxic T-cell cytotoxicity in vitro was normal.

CONCLUSIONS: Clinical and immunological features of atypical familial hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis show an important overlap to primary immunodeficiency diseases (particularly common variable immunodeficiency and X-linked lymphoproliferative syndrome) and must, therefore, be considered in a variety of clinical presentations. We show that degranulation assays are helpful screening tests for the identification of such patients.

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