Familial Hemophagocytic Lymphohistiocytosis secondary to UNC13D mutation: a report of two cases

BMC Pediatr. 2022 Nov 19;22(1):667. doi: 10.1186/s12887-022-03746-9.


Background: Hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis (HLH) is a life-threatening disease characterized by some clinical signs (e.g., non-remitting fever, hepatosplenomegaly) and laboratory findings (e.g., cytopenia, increased ferritin level, hypofibrinogenemia, lipid disorders, coagulopathy, and multiple organ failure). Depending on the etiology, HLH is divided into familial (i.e., primary) and acquired (i.e., secondary) forms. Familial HLH (FHL), an autosomal recessive condition, is classified into five subtypes based on underlying genetic defects. The PRF1, STX11, UNC13D, HPLH1, and STXBP2 are the most well-known genes of this type which are related to granule-mediated cytotoxic T and Natural killer (NK) cells. The treatment is based on the HLH-2004 protocol.

Case presentation: The current report presents two cases of HLH with presentations different from each other and previously reported cases. Case 1 was a 15-month-old boy with fever, skin rash, splenomegaly, and bicytopenia, raised triglyceride levels, AST (aspartate transaminase), and ALT (alanine aminotransferase), normal ferritin, and abundant hemophagocytic cell in bone marrow aspiration. He was diagnosed with HLH and received HLH protocol as treatment. The patient had a homozygous intronic mutation; NM_199242: c.2448-13G > A in UNC13D. The associated disease was Familial Hemophagocytic Lymphohistiocytosis 3 (FHL3). Case 2, a 37-day-old female presented with fever, a history of neonatal cholestasis, and huge hepatosplenomegaly. Her whole-exome sequencing report manifested that the patient had the same mutation as case 1. Unfortunately, both patients passed away.

Conclusion: The sequencing of the entire UNC13D gene (coding and non-coding regions) is an applicable and valuable diagnostic procedure for the detection of deep intronic splicing variants and large inversions in patients with atypical manifestations of HLH (such as normal ferritin or triglyceride and cholesterol).

Keywords: Case report; FHL (familial Hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis); HLH (Hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis); UNC13D.

Publication types

  • Case Reports

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Ferritins
  • Homozygote
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Lymphohistiocytosis, Hemophagocytic* / diagnosis
  • Lymphohistiocytosis, Hemophagocytic* / genetics
  • Male
  • Membrane Proteins / genetics
  • Mutation
  • Triglycerides


  • Triglycerides
  • Ferritins
  • UNC13D protein, human
  • Membrane Proteins