Hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis

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Hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis
Classification and external resources
Hemophagocytic syndrome - cropped - very high mag.jpg
Micrograph showing red blood cells within macrophages. H&E stain.
OMIM267700 603553 608898 603552
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Hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis
Classification and external resources
Hemophagocytic syndrome - cropped - very high mag.jpg
Micrograph showing red blood cells within macrophages. H&E stain.
OMIM267700 603553 608898 603552

Hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis (HLH), also known as haemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis (British spelling), and hemophagocytic or haemophagocytic syndrome,[1] is an uncommon hematologic disorder. It is a life threatening disease of severe hyperinflammation caused by uncontrolled proliferation of activated lymphocytes and macrophages characterised by proliferation of morphologically benign lymphocytes and macrophages that secrete high amounts of inflammatory cytokines. It is classified as one of the cytokine storm syndromes.


The first case report of HLH was published in 1952.[citation needed]


Primary HLH, also known as familial haemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis (FHL) or familial erythrophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis, is a heterogeneous autosomal recessive disorder found to be more prevalent with parental consanguinity.

Secondary haemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis (acquired haemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis) occurs after strong immunologic activation, such as that which can occur with systemic infection, immunodeficiency, or underlying malignancy. Both forms are characterized by the overwhelming activation of normal T lymphocytes and macrophages, invariably leading to clinical and haematologic alterations and death in the absence of treatment.


Five genetic subtypes (FHL1, FHL2, FHL3, FHL4, and FHL5) are described, with an estimated prevalence of one in 50,000 and equal gender distribution. Molecular genetic testing for four of the causative genes, PRF1 (FHL2), UNC13D (FHL3), STX11 (FHL4), and STXBP2 (FHL5), is available on a clinical basis. Symptoms of FHL are usually evident within the first few months of life and may even develop in utero. However, symptomatic presentation throughout childhood and even into young adulthood has been observed in some cases.

The five subtypes of FHL[2] are each associated with a specific gene:

Nearly half of the cases of type 2 familial hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis are due to bi-allelic PRF1 mutations.[3]

Clinical presentation[edit]

The onset of HLH occurs under the age of 1 year in ~70% of cases. Familial HLH should be suspected if siblings are diagnosed with HLH or if symptoms recur when therapy has been stopped. Each full sibling of a child with familial HLH has a 25% chance of developing the disease, a 50% chance of carrying the defective gene (which is very rarely associated with any risk of disease) and a 25% chance of not being affected and not carrying the gene defect.

HLH clinically manifests with fever, hepatosplenomegaly, lymphadenopathy, jaundice and a rash.


The blood count typically shows pancytopenia - anemia, neutropenia and thrombocytopenia.

The blood film may show hemophagocytosis.

The liver function tests are usually elevated. Hypoalbuminemia is common.

The serum C reactive protein, erythrocyte sedimentation rate and ferritin level are markedly elevated.

The serum fibrinogen level is usually low and the D-dimer level is elevated.

The sphingomyelinase is elevated.[4]

Bone marrow biopsy shows histiocytosis[5]

Diagnostic criteria[edit]

The current (2008) diagnostic criteria for HLH are[6]

1. A molecular diagnosis consistent with HLH. These include the identification of pathologic mutations of PRF1, UNC13D or STX11.


2. Fulfillment of five out of the eight criteria below:

In addition, in the case of familial HLH, no evidence of malignancy should be apparent.

Differential diagnosis[edit]

The differential diagnosis of HLH includes secondary HLH and macrophage-activation syndrome or other primary immunodeficiencies that present with hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis, such as X-linked lymphoproliferative disease.

Other conditions that may be confused with this condition include autoimmune lymphoproliferative syndrome.[7]

The diagnosis of acquired, or secondary, HLH is usually made in association with infection by viruses, bacteria, fungi, or parasites or in association with lymphoma, autoimmune disease, or metabolic disease. Acquired HLH may have decreased, normal, or increased NK cell activity.

Griscelli syndrome[edit]

A major differential of HLH is Griscelli syndrome. This is a rare (less than 100 reported cases) autosomal recessive disorder characterized by partial albinism, hepatosplenomegaly, pancytopenia, hepatitis, immunologic abnormalities, and lymphohistiocytosis. Most cases have been diagnosed between 4 months and 7 years of age, with a mean age of about 17 months.

Three type of Griscelli sydrome are recognised: Type 1 have neurologic symptoms and mutations in MYO5A. Prognosis depends on the severity of neurologic manifestations. Type 2 have mutations in RAB27A and haemophagocytic syndrome, with abnormal T-cell and macrophage activation. This type has a grave prognosis if untreated. Type 3 have mutations in melanophilin and are characterized by partial albinism. This type does not pose a threat to those so affected.


In secondary cases treatment of the cause, where possible, is indicated. Additionally treatment for HLH itself is usually required.

While optimal treatment of HLH is still being debated, current treatment regimes usually involve high dose corticosteroids, etoposide and cyclosporin. Intravenous immunoglobulin is also used. Methotrexate and vincristine have also been used.


The prognosis is guarded with an overall mortality of 50%.

Secondary HLH in some individuals may be self-limited because patients are able to fully recover after having received only supportive medical treatment (i.e., IV immunoglobulin only). However, long-term remission without the use of cytotoxic and immune-suppressive therapies is unlikely in the majority of adults with HLH and in those with CNS involvement.[8]

Additional images[edit]

See also[edit]


 This article incorporates public domain material from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention document "Hemophagocytic Syndromes and Infection" by David N. Fisman (retrieved on 2010-12-01).

  1. ^ Fisman, David N. (2000). "Hemophagocytic syndromes and infection". Emerging Infect. Dis. 6 (6): 601–8. doi:10.3201/eid0606.000608. PMC 2640913. PMID 11076718. 
  2. ^ Zhang, Kejian; Filopovich, Alexandra H.; Johnson, Judith; Marsh, Rebecca A.; Villanueva, Joyce (January 17, 2013). "Hemophagocytic Lymphohistiocytosis, Familial". GeneReviews (National Center for Biotechnology Information). PMID 20301617. Retrieved April 4, 2014. 
  3. ^ Trapani, Joseph A.; Thia, Kevin Y.T.; Andrews, Miles; Davis, Ian D.; Gedye, Craig; Parente, Philip; Svobodova, Suzanne; Chia, Jenny; Browne, Kylie; Campbell, Ian G.; Phillips, Wayne A.; Voskoboinik, Ilia; Cebon, Jonathan S. (April 1, 2013). "Human perforin mutations and susceptibility to multiple primary cancers". Oncoimmunology (Landes Bioscience) 2 (4). doi:10.4161/onci.24185. Retrieved April 4, 2014. 
  4. ^ Jenkins RW, Clarke CJ, Lucas JT Jr, Shabbir M, Wu BX, Simbari F, Mueller J, Hannun YA, Lazarchick J, Shirai K (2013) Evaluation of the role of secretory sphingomyelinase and bioactive sphingolipids as biomarkers in hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis. Am J Hematol doi: 10.1002/ajh.23535
  5. ^ Lymphohistiocytosis, Hemophagocytic at the US National Library of Medicine Medical Subject Headings (MeSH)
  6. ^ Jordan MB, Filipovich AH (2008) Hematopoietic cell transplantation for hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis: a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single (big) step. Bone marrow transplanation 42: 433–437 doi:10.1038/bmt.2008.232
  7. ^ Rudman Spergel A, Walkovich K, Price S, Niemela JE, Wright D, Fleisher TA, Rao VK (2013) Autoimmune lymphoproliferative syndrome misdiagnosed as hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis. Pediatrics
  8. ^ "GeneReviews - hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis". Retrieved 2011-09-12. 

External links[edit]