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Mod Pathol. 2012 Aug;25(8):1149-59. doi: 10.1038/modpathol.2012.70. Epub 2012 May 25.

Infectious mononucleosis mimicking lymphoma: distinguishing morphological and immunophenotypic features.

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The James Homer Wright Pathology Laboratories, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA 02114, USA.


The diagnosis of infectious mononucleosis (acute Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) infection) is usually made on the basis of clinical and laboratory findings. However, an atypical clinical presentation occasionally results in a lymph node or tonsillar biopsy. The morphological features of EBV-infected lymphoid tissue can easily mimic lymphoma. Furthermore, the immunophenotype of the immunoblasts has not been well characterized. To assess the morphological spectrum of acute EBV infection and the utility of immunohistochemistry in diagnosing difficult cases that resemble lymphoma, we reviewed 18 cases of acute EBV infection submitted in consultation to our institution with an initial diagnosis of/or suspicion for lymphoma. Patients included nine male and nine female individuals with a median age of 18 years (range 9-69). Biopsies were obtained from lymph nodes (3/18) or Waldeyer's ring (15/18). Infectious mononucleosis was confirmed by monospot or serological assays in 72% of cases (13/18). All cases featured architectural distortion by a polymorphous infiltrate with an immunoblastic proliferation, sometimes forming sheets. Reed-Sternberg-like cells were present in 8/18 (44%) of the cases. Infiltrates were often accompanied by necrosis (10/18) and mucosal ulceration (6/15). The majority of immunoblasts in all cases were CD20+ B cells with a post-germinal center immunophenotype (strongly positive for MUM1/IRF4 (18/18), CD10- (18/18 negative) and BCL-6- (16/18 negative; 2/18 faint BCL-6 expression in <10% of immunoblasts)). Immunoblasts showed variable weak expression of BCL-2 and polyclonal expression of κ and λ immunoglobulin light chains in 81% cases. Reed-Sternberg-like cells in 8/8 cases were CD30+, CD15-, BOB.1+ and OCT-2+. In conclusion, an atypical lymphoid infiltrate with numerous MUM1+, CD10-, BCL-6- immunoblasts should raise the suspicion of a reactive process, such as infectious mononucleosis, and warrants additional consideration before a diagnosis of lymphoma is made.

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