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Int J Clin Exp Pathol. 2014 Aug 15;7(9):5738-49. eCollection 2014.

The ambiguous boundary between EBV-related hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis and systemic EBV-driven T cell lymphoproliferative disorder.

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Department of Pathology, Microbiology and Immunology, Vanderbilt University Medical Center Nashville TN, USA.


Epstein Barr virus (EBV)-related hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis (EBV-HLH) is a form of acquired, infection-related HLH which typically represents a fulminant presentation of an acute EBV infection of CD8+ T cells with 30-50% mortality rate. Systemic EBV-positive lymphoproliferative disease of childhood (SE-LPD) is a rare T cell lymphoproliferative disorder predominantly arising in the setting of acute EBV infection, often presenting with HLH. Since both entities have been associated with clonal T cell populations, the discrimination between these diseases is often ambiguous. We report a unique case of a 21 years old female who presented with clinical and laboratory findings of florid HLH in the setting of markedly elevated EBV titers (>1 million) and an aberrant T cell population shown to be clonal by flow cytometry, karyotype, and molecular studies. This case raises the differential of EBV-HLH versus SE-LPD. Review of the literature identified 74 cases of reported EBV-HLH and 21 cases of SE-LPD with associated HLH in 25 studies. Of those cases with available outcome data, 62 of 92 cases (67%) were fatal. Of 60 cases in which molecular clonality was demonstrated, 37 (62%) were fatal, while all 14 cases (100%) demonstrating karyotypic abnormalities were fatal. Given the karyotypic findings in this sentinel case, a diagnosis of SE-LPD was rendered. The overlapping clinical and pathologic findings suggest that EBV-HLH and SE-LPD are a biologic continuum, rather than discrete entities. The most clinically useful marker of mortality was an abnormal karyotype rather than other standards of clonality assessment.


EBV-related HLH; EBV-related T cell lymphoma; Systemic EBV-positive lymphoproliferative disease of childhood; atypical T cell population; clonal EBV-related HLH

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