Chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell toxicities resembling hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis (HLH) occur in a subset of patients with cytokine release syndrome (CRS). As a variant of conventional CRS, a comprehensive characterization of CAR T-cell-associated HLH (carHLH) and investigations into associated risk factors are lacking. In the context of 59 patients infused with CD22 CAR T cells where a substantial proportion developed carHLH, we comprehensively describe the manifestations and timing of carHLH as a CRS variant and explore factors associated with this clinical profile. Among 52 subjects with CRS, 21 (40.4%) developed carHLH. Clinical features of carHLH included hyperferritinemia, hypertriglyceridemia, hypofibrinogenemia, coagulopathy, hepatic transaminitis, hyperbilirubinemia, severe neutropenia, elevated lactate dehydrogenase, and occasionally hemophagocytosis. Development of carHLH was associated with preinfusion natural killer(NK) cell lymphopenia and higher bone marrow T-cell:NK cell ratio, which was further amplified with CAR T-cell expansion. Following CRS, more robust CAR T-cell and CD8 T-cell expansion in concert with pronounced NK cell lymphopenia amplified preinfusion differences in those with carHLH without evidence for defects in NK cell mediated cytotoxicity. CarHLH was further characterized by persistent elevation of HLH-associated inflammatory cytokines, which contrasted with declining levels in those without carHLH. In the setting of CAR T-cell mediated expansion, clinical manifestations and immunophenotypic profiling in those with carHLH overlap with features of secondary HLH, prompting consideration of an alternative framework for identification and management of this toxicity profile to optimize outcomes following CAR T-cell infusion.
© 2021 by The American Society of Hematology.