Hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis is a life-threatening disorder characterized by unbridled activation of cytotoxic T lymphocytes, natural killer (NK) cells, and macrophages resulting in hypercytokinemia and immune-mediated injury of multiple organ systems. It is seen in both children and adults and is recognized as primary (driven by underlying genetic mutations that abolish critical proteins required for normal function of cytotoxic T cells and NK cells) or secondary (resulting from a malignant, infectious, or autoimmune stimulus without an identifiable underlying genetic trigger). Clinical and laboratory manifestations include fever, splenomegaly, neurologic dysfunction, coagulopathy, liver dysfunction, cytopenias, hypertriglyceridemia, hyperferritinemia, hemophagocytosis, and diminished NK cell activity. It is treated with immune suppressants, etoposide, and allogeneic hematopoietic stem cell transplantation; more than 50% of children who undergo transplant survive, but adults have quite poor outcomes even with aggressive management. Newer agents directed at subduing the uncontrolled immune response in a targeted fashion offer promise in this highly morbid disease.
Keywords: hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis; hemophagocytosis; immune activation; macrophage activation syndrome; reactive hemophagocytic syndrome.