Purpose: Familial hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis type 3 (FHL3) is a genetic disorder that results in immune dysregulation. It requires prompt and accurate diagnosis. A natural killer (NK) cell degranulation assay is often used to screen for FHL3 patients. However, we recently encountered two cases of late-onset FHL3 carrying novel UNC13D missense mutations: in these cases, the degranulation assays using freshly isolated and interleukin (IL)-2-activated NK cells yielded contradictory results. Since the defective degranulation of CD57+ cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTLs) in these cases was helpful for making the diagnosis, we assessed whether the CD57+ CTL degranulation assay more effectively identified FHL3 patients than the NK cell assays. Methods: Forty additional patients with hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis were prospectively screened for FHL3 by measuring the perforin expression in NK cells and the expression of Munc13-4, syntaxin-11, and Munc18-2 in platelets and by performing NK cell and CTL degranulation assays. The results were confirmed by genetic analysis. Results: The freshly isolated NK cell degranulation assay detected FHL3 patients with high sensitivity (100%) but low specificity (71%). The IL-2-stimulated NK cell assay had improved specificity, but 3 out of the 31 non-FHL3 patients still showed degranulation below the threshold level. The CD57+ CTL degranulation assay identified FHL3 patients with high sensitivity and specificity (both 100%). Conclusions: The CD57+ CTL degranulation assay more effectively identified FHL3 patients than the NK cell-based assays.
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