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N Engl J Med. 1991 Feb 14;324(7):455-60.

Syncytial giant-cell hepatitis. Sporadic hepatitis with distinctive pathological features, a severe clinical course, and paramyxoviral features.

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Department of Pathology, Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto, ON, Canada.



We describe a new form of hepatitis, occurring in 10 patients over a period of six years, characterized clinically by manifestations of severe hepatitis, histologically by large syncytial giant hepatocytes, and ultrastructurally by intracytoplasmic structures consistent with paramyxoviral nucleocapsids.


The patients ranged in age from 5 months to 41 years. The tentative clinical diagnosis before biopsy was non-A, non-B hepatitis in five patients and autoimmune chronic active hepatitis in the others. Five patients underwent liver transplantation; the others died. The diagnosis of syncytial giant-cell hepatitis was established pathologically. The liver cords were replaced in all 10 patients by syncytial giant cells with up to 30 nuclei. In 8 of the 10 the cytoplasm contained pleomorphic particles of 150 to 250 microns, filamentous strands, and particles of 14 to 17 nm with peripherally disposed spikes resembling paramyxoviral nucleocapsids. Structures resembling degenerated forms were found in the other two patients. One of two chimpanzees injected with a liver homogenate from the index patient had an increase in the titer of paramyxoviral antibodies, probably an anamnestic reaction to previous paramyxoviral infection, suggesting that a paramyxoviral antigen but not viable virus was present in the liver homogenate.


Although further virologic studies will be required for precise classification, we believe that paramyxoviruses should be considered in patients with severe sporadic hepatitis.

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