High-dose immunosuppressive therapy followed by autologous hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT) is currently being evaluated for the control of severe autoimmune diseases. The addition of antithymocyte globulin (ATG) to high-dose chemoradiotherapy in the high-dose immunosuppressive therapy regimen and CD34 selection of the autologous graft may induce a higher degree of immunosuppression compared with conventional autologous HSCT for malignant diseases. Patients may be at higher risk of transplant-related complications secondary to the immunosuppressed state, including Epstein-Barr virus (EBV)-associated posttransplantation lymphoproliferative disorder (PTLD), but this is an unusual complication after autologous HSCT. Fifty-six patients (median age, 42 years; range, 23-61 years) with either multiple sclerosis (n = 26) or systemic sclerosis (n = 30) have been treated. The median follow-up has been 24 months (range, 2-60 months). Two patients (multiple sclerosis, n = 1; systemic sclerosis, n = 1) had significant reactivations of herpesvirus infections early after HSCT and then developed aggressive EBV-PTLD and died on days +53 and +64. Multiorgan clonal B-cell infiltrates that were EBV positive by molecular studies or immunohistology were identified at both autopsies. Both patients had positive screening skin tests for equine ATG (Atgam) and had been converted to rabbit ATG (Thymoglobulin) from the first dose. Of the other 54 patients, 2 of whom had partial courses of rabbit ATG because of a reaction to the intravenous infusion of equine ATG, only 1 patient had a significant clinical reactivation of a herpesvirus infection (herpes simplex virus 2) early after HSCT, and none developed EBV-PTLD. The T-cell count in the peripheral blood on day 28 was 0/μL in all 4 patients who received rabbit ATG; this was significantly less than in patients who received equine ATG (median, 174/μL; P =.001; Mann-Whitney ranked sum test). Although the numbers are limited, the time course and similarity of the 2 cases of EBV-PTLD and the effect on day 28 T-cell counts support a relationship between the development of EBV-PTLD and the administration of rabbit ATG. The differences between equine and rabbit ATG are not yet clearly defined, and they should not be considered interchangeable in this regimen without further study.
- Autoimmune diseases
- CD34 selection
- Hematopoietic stem cell transplantation
- Multiple sclerosis
- Systemic sclerosis