Posttransplant lymphoproliferative disorder (PTLD) causes significant morbidity and mortality, is related to Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) infection, and is more common in children than in adults. We reviewed autopsies of children who died with PTLD to compare postmortem with antemortem PTLD histology, to assess the extent of PTLD, to document associated pathology, and to identify cause of death.


Postmortem examinations were performed on 7 patients after bone marrow (n = 3) or liver (n= 4) transplant. PTLD was classified histologically as hyperplasia or lymphoma. In situ hybridization for EBER1 messenger RNA was performed on tissue samples from all cases. EBV serologies were used to categorize infections as negative, primary, or reactive.


PTLD was diagnosed in 5 children 12 to 35 (mean: 22) days before death, and 1.5 to 4 (mean: 3) months after transplant; PTLD was diagnosed in 2 cases at autopsy 2.5 and 4 months after transplant. Postmortem PTLD histology resembled antemortem histology; 5 PTLDs were lymphoma, 1 was hyperplasia, and 1 contained both lymphoma and hyperplasia. EBER1 messenger RNA was detected in 6 B-cell PTLDs, including lesions from patients who did not have EBV serology that indicated active infection. Complete autopsy of 4 patients who died with biopsy-proven PTLD revealed widely disseminated disease, and lymph node, brain, gastrointestinal tract, and kidney were involved in all 4 patients. Cases diagnosed at autopsy were 1 widely disseminated PTLD that had been suspected but not proven antemortem, and 1 PTLD confined to abdominal lymph nodes that was not suspected antemortem. Severe organ dysfunction (renal failure, gastrointestinal hemorrhage) was caused by massive PTLD infiltration in 2 patients. The conditions other than PTLD that contributed to morbidity and death were organ infection (5 cases), infarcts (4 cases), and diffuse alveolar damage (3 cases).


PTLD may occur within weeks after transplant in children. The distribution of PTLD comprises a spectrum from localized and subclinical to widely disseminated and symptomatic. PTLD may cause demise quickly after the onset of signs and symptoms, through massive organ infiltration or associated conditions, such as diffuse alveolar damage. EBV serology may not accurately reflect the presence or extent of PTLD. Autopsy studies of transplant patients are necessary to identify the true incidence, natural history, and response to treatment of PTLD.

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