Hemophagocytic lymphohistocytosis in trisomy 21: successful treatment with interferon inhibition

Allison Guild, Jordan Fritch, Sachit Patel, Adam Reinhardt, Melissa Acquazzino

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis (HLH) is a life-threatening condition of immune dysregulation primarily driven by the cytokine interferon gamma. It can be either a genetic or acquired disorder associated with infection, malignancy, and rheumatologic disorders. Trisomy 21 can express a wide range of phenotypes which include immune dysregulation and shares inherent pathophysiology with a group of disorders termed interferonopathies. Knowledge of this overlap in seemingly unrelated conditions could provide a basis for future research, and most importantly, alternative therapeutic interventions in acute life threatening clinical scenarios. Herein, we describe two patients with trisomy 21 presenting with HLH that was refractory to conventional treatment. Both patients were successfully managed with novel interventions targeting the interferon pathway. Case presentation: We describe a 17-month-old male and 15-month-old female with trisomy 21 presenting with a myriad of signs and symptoms including fever, rash, cytopenias, and hyperferritinemia, both ultimately diagnosed with HLH. Each had relapsing, refractory HLH over time requiring several admissions to the hospital receiving conventional high dose corticosteroids and interleukin-1 inhibition therapy. Successful steroid-free remission was achieved after targeting interferon inhibition with emapalumab induction followed by long-term maintenance on baricitinib. Conclusion: To our knowledge, these are the first reported cases of relapsed, refractory HLH in patients with trisomy 21 successfully treated with emapalumab and transitioned to a steroid-sparing regimen with oral baricitinib for maintenance therapy. Trisomy 21 autoimmunity and HLH are both thought to be driven by interferon gamma. Targeting therapy toward interferon signaling in both HLH and autoimmunity in trisomy 21 may have potential therapeutic benefits. Further investigation is needed to determine if trisomy 21 may predispose to the development of HLH given this common pathway.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number104
JournalPediatric Rheumatology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2022


  • Baricitinib
  • Down syndrome
  • Emapalumab
  • HLH
  • IFNγ
  • Interferon-gamma
  • Interferonopathy
  • Trisomy 21

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Rheumatology
  • Immunology and Allergy


Dive into the research topics of 'Hemophagocytic lymphohistocytosis in trisomy 21: successful treatment with interferon inhibition'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this