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Epstein-Barr Virus Hepatitis: Diagnostic Value of In Situ Hybridization, Polymerase Chain Reaction, and Immunohistochemistry on Liver Biopsy From Immunocompetent Patients

Abstract

Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) hepatitis is an uncommon, almost always self-limited disease in immunocompetent patients. Accurate diagnosis is imperative for appropriate clinical management. The aim of this study was to compare 3 available methods for EBV detection on routinely processed liver biopsies to determine their effectiveness in aiding the diagnosis. In 6 of the 8 cases of EBV hepatitis, EBV was detected by both polymerase chain reaction (PCR) for EBV DNA and in situ hybridization (ISH) for EBV early RNA (EBER). EBV was detected by PCR only in 1 case, and by ISH only in another. EBER-positive cells detected by ISH were typically few and individually distributed in the portal tracts and sinusoids. Immunohistochemical staining for EBV latent membrane proteins was negative in all 8 cases. Five cases of chronic hepatitis C used as negative controls were negative by all 3 detection methods for EBV. These data indicate that PCR and ISH are equally sensitive in detecting EBV in routinely processed liver biopsies. The ready implementation of ISH in pathology laboratories makes it a useful ancillary tool in confirming the diagnosis of EBV hepatitis in equivocal cases. However, EBER-positive cells can be sparse and easily overlooked. Immunohistochemistry for EBV latent membrane proteins apparently has no utility in the diagnosis of EBV hepatitis.