The Journal of Heart and Lung Transplantation
International Society for Heart and Lung Transplantation.
Case report| Volume 20, ISSUE 3, P375-380, March 2001

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Recurrence of giant cell myocarditis in cardiac allograft


      Background: Giant cell myocarditis causes essentially irreversible fulminant left ventricular dysfunction with associated conduction abnormalities and congestive failure. Response to immunosuppressive therapy is poor and cardiac transplantation is the only viable treatment option. The histologic hallmarks of giant cell myocarditis include a polymorphous inflammatory response with numerous multinucleated giant cells and extensive myocyte necrosis in a geographic pattern. There were 38 patients who received a cardiac transplant for giant cell myocarditis in the Giant Cell Myocarditis Registry. Among these patients, there were 9 recurrences of disease in the allograft. Concern has been expressed that recurrence of giant cell myocarditis in the allograft might be a contraindication for cardiac transplantation in the future.


      In our single-center analysis we describe the clinical and histologic findings of 5 patients transplanted for giant cell myocarditis at the Cleveland Clinic.


      All but 1 of the patients were New York Heart Association (NYHA) class 4 with an average cardiac index (CI) of 1.52 liters/min · m2. Of the 5 patients transplanted, 1 developed recurrent giant cell myocarditis. Routine right ventricular endomyocardial biopsy at 1 week exhibited severe multifocal myocardial fibrosis in addition to mild acute vascular rejection and mild grade 1A cellular rejection. Follow-up biopsy in this patient indicated grade IIIA moderate acute rejection in addition to multinucleated giant cells. Two distinct inflammatory processes were noted consisting of foci of T-cell inflammation identified by immunohistochemistry to be consistent with rejection, and a second inflammatory process with few mononuclear cells staining for macrophage or T-cell markers with eosinophils and myocyte necrosis consistent with giant cell myocarditis. Follow-up right ventricular endomyocardial biopsies (RVBXs) in this patient have subsequently demonstrated improvement in the degree of inflammatory infiltrate without vascular or significant cellular rejection. Vascular rejection was noted in 1 of the remaining 4 patients and was treated successfully with muramab-CD3 and plasmapheresis.


      Giant cell myocarditis should be expected to recur in the allograft and often does so concurrently with rejection. However, the disease in the allograft responds to therapy in a favorable manner, which differs dramatically from that in the native heart. This might be the result of detection of the disease at an earlier stage than in the native heart, or the immunosuppression milieu in the allograft. The favorable response to therapy suggests that the likelihood of recurrence of giant cell myocarditis should not be considered a barrier to transplantation.
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