Reactivation of Epstein-Barr Virus Hepatitis in T/Natural Killer (NK) Cells Mimicking Liver T/NK-Cell Lymphoma

Sara Kwong, Xiangping Lu, Xiuli Liu, Jinping Lai


Diagnosis of Epstein-Barr virus (EBV)-associated hepatitis, chronic active EBV infection, and EBV-associated lymphoproliferative diseases, is always challenging due to the overlapping symptoms and lack of diagnostic criteria. We report such a case of a 40-year-old man with unremarkable past medical history. He presented with fever of unknown origin for 1 month with jaundice for 2 days. Physical exams were unremarkable with body temperature at 98.6 F. His liver function tests were elevated with alanine transaminase (ALT) 559 U/L, aspartate transaminase (AST) 892 U/L, alkaline phosphatase 319 U/L and total bilirubin 4.4 mg/dL. Computed tomography of his chest, abdomen and pelvis did not show lymphadenopathy or hepatosplenomegaly. A liver biopsy showed moderately acute hepatitis with hemophagocytosis, positive Epstein-Barr virus encoding RNA (EBER) in situ hybridization in CD3 and CD4-positive T cells and CD56-positive natural killer (NK) cells. CD20 was negative. The pathology diagnosis was consistent with reactivation of EBV hepatitis but NK-cell lymphoma needs to be excluded. Steatohepatitis with mild activity was present. His blood EBV DNA was 846,000 copies/mL and continued to increase to 2,000,000 copies/mL. Flow cytometric analysis of his bone marrow revealed an increased NK-cell activity but no T/NK-cell lymphoma was identified. Initial treatment with rituxan, etoposide and/or ruxolitinib/acyclovir failed or only had limited effect. However, subsequent valganciclovir greatly improved his conditions. In his 3 months follow-up, the patient was doing well with almost normal liver function tests except mildly elevated ALT (95 U/L) that was due to mild steatohepatitis. EBV DNA PCR was 2,009 copies/mL. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first documented case with reactivation of EBV hepatitis mimicking NK-cell lymphoma in the English literature. With appropriate anti-EBV viral treatments, the patient eventually became asymptomatic and was able to return to his routine life.

Gastroenterol Res. 2020;13(2):81-84


Chronic active EBV infection; Hepatitis; T/NK-cell lymphoma; EBV-associated hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis; Steatohepatitis

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