Successful treatment of a Caucasian case of multifocal Castleman’s disease with TAFRO syndrome with a pathophysiology targeted therapy - a case report
© Tedesco et al.; licensee BioMed Central. 2015
Received: 16 September 2014
Accepted: 29 December 2014
Published: 14 January 2015
Castleman-Kojima disease (TAFRO Syndrome) is characterized by Thrombocytopenia, Anasarca, myeloFibrosis, Renal dysfunction, Organomegaly, multiple lymphadenopathy and histopathology pattern of atypical Castleman’s disease (CD). Only few cases of this recently identified unique variant of Multicentric CD (MCD) are described in literature, all Japanese. It therefore poses serious diagnostic and therapeutic challenges.
We describe a 21 year old woman with fever, asthenia, bilateral pleural effusion, ascites, hypoalbuminemia, severe thrombocytopenia, anemia, renal failure and proteinuria, whereas microbiological tests, immune serology (except ANA) and bone marrow biopsy were all negative. A CT-scan showed multiple lymphadenopathy and tissue samplings of mediastinal lymph nodes was compatible with a mixed-type CD. The diagnosis of MCD with TAFRO syndrome was made, but after an initial improvement with high dose corticosteroid therapy, clinical and laboratory features worsened. Based upon the high serum IL-6 levels and the high number of CD20-lymphocytes in lymph nodes tissue, we started tocilizumab (partial benefit), followed by rituximab combined with CVP (cyclophosphamide, vincristine and prednisone) chemotherapy, achieving a complete response. A total of six cycles of R-CVP were administered monthly, followed by maintenance with monthly rituximab. A complete remission persists at the 12th month of follow-up.
In patients with massive immune system activation and lymphadenopathy it is mandatory to rule out Castleman-Kojima disease. In our patient a therapy aimed at the prominent pathophysiological abnormalities has been successful so far. However, since the rarity of TAFRO Syndrome, a multicenter registry is strongly desirable for a better understanding of the disease mechanisms, hopefully leading to evidence-based therapeutic choices.
KeywordsCastleman’s disease Multicentric TAFRO syndrome Tocilizumab Rituximab Chemotherapy PRES
Castleman-Kojima disease (TAFRO Syndrome) is a novel systemic inflammatory disorder characterized by a constellation of symptoms, namely, thrombocytopenia, anasarca, myelofibrosis, renal dysfunction and organomegaly, and multiple lymphadenopathy of mild degree with histopathology of mixed- or hyaline vascular-type Castleman’s disease (CD). This unique clinicopathologic variant of Multicentric CD (MCD) has been recently identified in Japan  and poses serious diagnostic and therapeutic challenges for pathologists and clinicians, including the differential diagnosis from autoimmune diseases.
Two are the main peculiarities of the case we herein describe: 1. This is the first report of a Caucasian patient; 2. The patient has been successfully treated with a combination therapy of immunosuppressive and cytotoxic drugs.
Patient and disease characteristics at onset
Caucasian female, 21 years old
Genetic features and family history
Past medical history
Isolated seizure in childhood (age 15)
Car accident with right femur fracture (age 17)
Signs and symptoms at onset
Fever (38.5°C) with shiver
Left subcostal pain
Abnormal laboratory data at onset
White blood cells 11.8 × 103/μL
Hemoglobin 11.5 g/dL
Platelet counts 29 × 103/μL
AST 56 IU/L
Albumin 1.86 g/dL
Proteinuria 0.47 g/24 h
CRP 22.2 mg/dL
Ferritin 715 ng/mL
Laboratory data of the patient
At the onset of disease
At 2 months after the onset (before TCZ)
At 3 months after the onset (after TCZ)
At 4 months after the onset (before R-CVP)
At 9 months after the onset (after sixth R-CVP)
At 12 months after the onset
White blood cells (×10 3 /μL)
Platelet counts (×10 3 /μL)
Proteinuria (g/24 h)
The ascites and pleural fluids had biochemical exudative characteristics but were sterile, and no lymphoma or other malignant cells were detected in the samples.Tissue samplings of inguinal and mediastinal nodules (by bronchoscopy) were not diagnostic. After an initial improvement with high dose steroid therapy (methylprednisolone intravenously at 1 mg/kg for two weeks, then prednisone 50 mg/d orally, tapered to 37.5 mg/d), clinical and lab features worsened. A surgical mediastinal lymph node biopsy finally showed an histological picture suggestive for mixed-type (hyaline-vascular and plasma cell type) Castleman’s disease (Figure 1C,D).
The diagnosis of Multicentric Castleman’s Disease with TAFRO syndrome was then established.
Given the high plasmatic level of IL-6 and the clinical evidences available in literature, we added tocilizumab (8 mg/kg intravenously, every two weeks, three infusions) to the corticosteroid therapy (prednisone 50 mg/d orally); some of the patient’s features improved (Table 2), but after one month, there was no further clinic or laboratoristic benefit. Therefore, R-CVP (rituximab 375 mg/m3, cyclophosphamide 750 mg/m3, vincristine 1.4 mg/m3 and prednisone 40 mg/m3) chemotherapy was started (CVP monthly; rituximab weekly for the first month, then monthly). Two days after the first infusion a severe Posterior Reversible Encephalopathy Syndrome (PRES), clinically characterized by hypertension, visual disturbances, severe headache and convulsive crisis, appeared. A magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the brain showed enlargement of brain cerebrospinal fluid spaces and some small cortical-subcortical areas of altered signal. The syndrome resolved without any aftermath after three days. An anti-hypertensive and anti-comitial prophylaxis was added, the cyclophosphamide dose was reduced to 50% only in the second administration and the patient completed a total of 6 chemotherapy cycles without other adverse events.
The TAFRO syndrome, that in the past may have been occasionally described under a MCD label (even in Caucasian patients ), is characterized by a constellation of symptoms resembling the most severe autoimmune diseases (Systemic Lupus Erythematosus -SLE- or systemic vasculitis) and because of the nonspecific manifestations at onset, a careful and prolonged follow-up is often needed to reach a definitive diagnosis and to start the treatment.
A review of the literature with sensible strategy was performed. Both PubMed and Embase databases were searched, with “tafro [All Fields] AND (“syndrome” [MeSH Terms] OR “syndrome” [All Fields])” and “Multi-centric Castleman’s Disease [Supplementary Concept]” as strategy. Manual search was added and 30 pertinent articles were found (last update July 2014). The research showed, after the identification of this unique variant of MCD, only a handful of TAFRO cases, all in Japan, treated with tocilizumab and/or rituximab and cyclosporine A [4–9], with discordant results. A standard therapy is therefore far to be established and a therapeutic strategy borrowed from the MCD experience is suggested .
Since the disseminated lymphadenopathy rarely enable complete surgical debulking [11, 12], patients with MCD always require systemic therapy . Steroids have been commonly used, and a response rate of 60% has been achieved, although responses are transient .
Due to the role of IL-6 in the pathogenesis of CD, antibodies against its receptor have been used . In several reported cases [6, 15, 16] tocilizumab was very effective: patients achieved a complete remission and the treatment was discontinued often without disease recurrence .
Moreover, anti-CD20 monoclonal antibody (rituximab) has increasingly been used as a front-line treatment in most chronic B-cell lymphoproliferative disorders, in combination with standard chemotherapeutic regimens. Some reports of its efficacy in MCD have been published [18, 19], both in HHV-8 negative and HHV-8 positive patients, alone  or in association with combined chemotherapy .
Finally, in MCD patients treated with lymphoma-based chemotherapy, such as cyclophosphamide, vincristine, doxorubicin, and either prednisone (CHOP) or dexamethasone (CVAD), the overall response rate is around 90%, with 50% complete responses, but relapses are common and the median survival around 19 months. Durable responses occur approximately in 25% of cases, and rare remissions have been sustained in excess of 15 years .
However, when to start chemotherapy, how many cycles are required and the role of an eventual maintenance therapy need to be further investigated.
In the present case, a pathophysiology-targeted treatment was chosen. Based upon the high IL-6 levels in the serum, steroid therapy was initially associated to tocilizumab. Because of the high number of CD20-lymphocytes in lymph nodes tissue, rituximab combined with CVP chemotherapy followed, obtaining a complete clinical and biological response. Furthermore, a maintenance therapy with rituximab 375 mg/m3 monthly has appeared to be effective and safe after a six months follow-up (first description in literature).
Moreover this case points out another rare condition, that is Posterior Reversible Encephalopathy Syndrome (PRES) [22, 23], a poorly understood and described clinical-radiological syndrome whose pathogenesis has been ascribed to altered cerebral circulation and endothelial dysfunction. Many immunosuppressive drugs, such as intravenous immunoglobulin, ciclosporin A, tacrolimus, interferon α and, as recently reported, cyclophosphamide, may be responsible for this syndrome. The most novel finding in recent clinical series is the high prevalence of autoimmune disorders, especially SLE . Although PRES is not considered an autoimmune condition per se, the association with immunological diseases suggests that endothelial dysfunction may lie at the core of its pathophysiology. Further research is of course needed to assess the merit of this hypothesis.
In conclusion, this is the first reported Caucasian case of MCD with TAFRO syndrome. To achieve a more precise definition of this novel entity, to establish criteria for diagnosis and to define a therapeutic strategy, as well as to better investigate the etiology of MCD also in non-Japanese patients, multicenter surveys are desirable. In the meantime, it is crucial that in patients with massive immune system activation and lymphadenopathy, without any known autoimmune diseases or other well-defined lymphoproliferative disorders, Castleman-Kojima disease should be suspected , especially if anasarca and ascites are present. In the absence of solid clinical evidence about efficacy of a specific therapeutic intervention, a pathophysiology-based treatment could be reasonable and effective.
Written informed consent was obtained from the patient for publication of this Case report and any accompanying images. A copy of the written consent is available for review by the Editor-in-Chief of this journal.
Thrombocytopenia, Anasarca, myeloFibrosis, Renal dysfunction and Organomegaly
Erythrocyte sedimentation rate
Anti nuclear antibodies
Anti native DNA antibodies
Anti extractable nuclear antigens antibodies
Anti beta2 glycoprotein I antibodies
Anti neutrophil cytoplasmic antibodies
Rituximab, methylprednisolone, cyclophosphamide, vincristine and prednisone
Cyclophosphamide, vincristine and prednisone
Posterior Reversible Encephalopathy Syndrome
Magnetic resonance imaging
Positron emission tomography
Idiopathic Plasmacytic Lymphadenopathy
Polyneuropathy, Organomegaly, Endocrinopathy/Edema, M-protein, Skin abnormalities
Systemic Lupus Erythematosus.
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