Histopathologic Correlates of Familial Hemophagocytic Lymphohistiocytosis Isolated to the Central Nervous System

J Neuropathol Exp Neurol. 2018 Dec 1;77(12):1079-1084. doi: 10.1093/jnen/nly094.


Familial hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis (HLH) is an immune hyperactivation syndrome caused by mutations in genes associated with cytotoxic T-cell and NK-cell function. While neurological manifestations frequently accompany systemic inflammation at initial presentation, isolated central nervous system (CNS) involvement is rare, and the histological correlates are not well described. We present 3 patients (ages 5, 6, and 7 years) with CNS-isolated familial HLH, who presented with a variety of neurological symptoms and underwent brain biopsies for multifocal enhancing supratentorial and infratentorial lesions. Biopsy slides from all 3 patients revealed similar findings: perivascular lymphocytes, predominantly CD3+ T-cells (CD4>CD8) with occasional intramural infiltration of small vessels; scattered histiocytes without hemophagocytosis; parenchymal and leptomeningeal inflammation varying from mild and focal to severe and sheet-like with associated destructive lesions. There was no evidence of demyelination, neoplasia, or infection. Genetic testing identified compound heterozygous mutations in PRF1 (Patients 1 and 2) and UNC13D (Patient 3), with no evidence of systemic disease except decreased NK-cell function. All 3 patients were treated with hematopoietic stem cell transplantation with marked improvement of symptoms. These findings combined with the poor outcomes associated with delayed diagnosis and lack of aggressive treatment highlight the need to consider HLH in the differential diagnosis of inflammatory brain lesions.

Publication types

  • Case Reports

MeSH terms

  • Brain / pathology*
  • Central Nervous System / pathology
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lymphohistiocytosis, Hemophagocytic / genetics*
  • Lymphohistiocytosis, Hemophagocytic / pathology*