Lipogranulomas and gold in the liver in rheumatoid arthritis

Am J Surg Pathol. 1992 Feb;16(2):171-4. doi: 10.1097/00000478-199202000-00010.


Liver biopsies have been performed routinely as part of a protocol to evaluate methotrexate therapy in severe rheumatoid arthritis. All patients in the study had failed standard medical therapy, including gold treatment. Twenty-three of 41 patients (56%) had well-formed lipogranulomas (LGs) in the lobules, compared with an incidence of approximately 5% in our general biopsy population. Twenty-seven of 41 patients (66%) had a unique pigment in their livers. In 20 of these, the pigment was in LGs; in the seven patients with pigment not associated with lobular LG, it was found in lipid droplets in portal triads. The pigment varied from irregular pale brown granules slightly larger than those of hemosiderin, to smaller black round granules. Lipogranuloma-associated pigment of this type is an unusual finding, reminiscent of argyria. There was a variable appearance upon polarization, the black granules at times being strikingly refractile. There was a positive correlation between the prominence of LG and the quantity of pigment. The pigment resembled that described with gold deposition in other tissues. Radiographic microanalysis of both brown and black granules was performed in three cases. Characteristic spectra (energy-dispersive spectroscopy) demonstrated the presence of gold in each case. Silver was not identified. The high incidence of LG may reflect the frequent administration of gold in an oily vehicle. Gold may remain trapped in the liver for a prolonged time. Thus far, we have not detected any adverse effect from the presence of LG-associated gold.

MeSH terms

  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / drug therapy*
  • Biopsy
  • Gold / analysis*
  • Gold / therapeutic use
  • Granuloma / pathology*
  • Humans
  • Liver / chemistry*
  • Liver / pathology
  • Liver Diseases / pathology*
  • Spectrum Analysis


  • Gold