Objectives: To investigate the prevalence of hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis (HLH) syndrome in pediatric acute liver failure (PALF) of infancy and assess the diagnostic role of rapid immunologic tests, genotype/phenotype correlations, and clinical outcomes.
Study design: We retrospectively analyzed 78 children with PALF aged <24 months referred over almost 2 decades. The studied patients with a phenotype of HLH syndrome had a comprehensive immunologic workup, including additional genetic analysis for primary immunologic causes.
Results: Thirty of the 78 children had the HLH phenotype and underwent genetic assessment, which demonstrated positive findings in 19 (63.3%), including 9 (30%) with biallelic primary HLH mutations and 10 (33.3%) with heterozygous mutations and/or polymorphisms. The most common form of primary HLH was familial hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis (FHL)-2, diagnosed in 6 children, 4 of whom had a c.50delT (p.Leu17ArgfsTer34) mutation in the PRF1 gene. Three patients with primary HLH received genetic diagnoses of FHL-3, Griscelli syndrome, and LRBA (lipopolysaccharide-responsive vesicle trafficking, beach- and anchor-containing) protein deficiency. Overall mortality in the series was 52.6% (10 of 19), and mortality in children with a documented biallelic pathogenic HLH mutation (ie, primary HLH) was 66.6% (6 of 9). Two children underwent liver transplantation, and 4 children underwent emergency hematopoietic stem cell transplantation; all but 1 child survived medium term.
Conclusions: Primary HLH can be diagnosed retrospectively in approximately one-third of infants with indeterminate PALF (iPALF) who meet the clinical criteria for HLH, often leading to their death. The most common HLH type in iPALF is FHL-2, caused by biallelic mutations in PRF-1. The clinical relevance of observed heterozygous mutations and variants of uncertain significance requires further investigation. Prompt hematopoietic stem cell transplantation could be life-saving in infants who survive the liver injury.
Keywords: hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis; liver transplantation; pediatric acute liver failure; perforin deficiency; primary immune deficiency.
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