Hepatitis-associated aplastic anemia

K E Brown, J Tisdale, A J Barrett, C E Dunbar, N S Young
New England Journal of Medicine 1997 April 10, 336 (15): 1059-64

BACKGROUND: Hepatitis-associated aplastic anemia is a variant of aplastic anemia in which aplastic anemia follows an acute attack of hepatitis. The aplastic anemia, however, is often fatal if untreated. To characterize the illness, investigate the role of hepatitis viruses, and assess the response to immunosuppressive treatment, we studied patients with the syndrome who were referred to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

METHODS: Standard hematologic and biochemical tests and measurements of bone marrow cellularity were used to monitor the patients' response to treatment. Serum was assayed for antibodies and antigens related to hepatitis A, B, and C viruses and for the RNA of hepatitis C and GB virus C by the polymerase chain reaction. All patients were treated with antithymocyte globulin and cyclosporine.

RESULTS: Ten patients with hepatitis-associated aplastic anemia were referred to the NIH between 1990 and 1996; all had the typical features of this syndrome. There was evidence of activated CD8 T lymphocytes in the blood. Serologic tests for hepatitis A, B, and C viruses were negative; RNA of hepatitis C virus was undetectable in all patients, but RNA of GB virus C was detected in three patients. Seven of the patients responded to intensive immunosuppressive treatment; the three who did not respond all died within one year of treatment, two from complications of stem-cell or marrow transplantation.

CONCLUSIONS: The hepatitis of the hepatitis-associated aplastic anemia does not appear to be caused by any of the known hepatitis viruses. We recommend immunosuppressive treatment for patients who do not have an HLA-matched related donor available for bone marrow transplantation. Several features of the syndrome suggest that it is mediated by immunopathologic mechanism.

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