Posttransplant lymphoproliferative disorder in liver allograft biopsies: A comparison of three methods for the demonstration of Epstein-Barr virus

Mark A. Lones, I. Peter Shintaku, Lawrence M. Weiss, Swan N. Thung, W. S. Nichols, Stephen A. Geller

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42 Scopus citations


Posttransplant lymphoproliferative disorder (PTLD) is associated with Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), and may clinically resemble acute allograft rejection. Three methods to show EBV in tissue were evaluated in 15 liver allograft biopsies from 12 patients including four with PTLD: (1) semiquantitative polymerase chain reaction (PCR) for EBV DNA; (2) in situ hybridization for EBV RNA (EBER); and (3) immunoperoxidase for EBV latent membrane protein (LMP). Index cases had a PCR dot blot result of 'positive' or 'weak positive.' Findings were correlated with histology, clinical data, therapy, and outcome. All four PTLD patients had a clinical diagnosis of acute rejection. All four showed EBV: PCR 4, EBER 4, LMP 3. Liver function tests were elevated in three, but EBV viral capsid antigen (VCA) IgM was not increased in three. Immunosuppression was withdrawn and all four patients underwent a second transplantation. One died 4 days posttransplant with disseminated PTLD, two died of sepsis at 1.5 and 14 months, and one is well at 3 years without PTLD. Eleven biopsies without PTLD showed: acute rejection 7, acute rejection and hepatitis 1, hepatitis B 1, and non-inflammatory changes 2. In this group, EBV results included: PCR weak positive in 10 and 1+ in one, EBER negative in ten and rare positive cells in one, LMP negative in 11. Liver function tests were elevated in 10, whereas VCA IgM was not increased in three and increased in one. Patients with acute rejection were treated with increased immunosuppression: none developed PTLD, with follow- up of at least 6 months in dine cases. Two patients died within 4 months of biopsy. One patient with PTLD in tonsils had a liver biopsy showing both acute rejection and EBV (PCR 1+, rare EBER + small cells). Histological studies combined with special EBV detection methods, can be useful to evaluate atypical lymphoid infiltrates in liver allograft biopsies and confirmation of a diagnosis of PTLD. All three methods are useful; EBER and PCR are the most sensitive. EBER and LMP can use paraffin sections.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)533-539
Number of pages7
JournalHuman Pathology
Issue number5
StatePublished - 1997


  • EBER
  • Epstein- Barr virus
  • latent membrane protein
  • liver allograft
  • posttransplant lymphoproliferative disorder


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