Hepatic Secondary Syphilis Can Cause a Variety of Histologic Patterns and May Be Negative for Treponeme Immunohistochemistry.

Journal Article (Journal Article)

The rate of syphilis in the United States has been increasing steadily in the past decade, but it remains an uncommon diagnosis in tissue biopsies. Most of the pathology literature on hepatic syphilis consists of older series or case reports. This study aimed to systematically characterize the histologic spectrum of hepatic syphilis in a contemporary cohort. Clinicopathologic features of 14 hepatic syphilis cases between 2012 and 2018 were analyzed to characterize the broad spectrum of histologic changes. Thirteen patients were men (age range: 19 to 59 y); 6 had known human immunodeficiency virus, 7 were men known to have sex with men, and no patient had known prior syphilis. Hepatic syphilis was the primary clinical suspicion in only 1 patient. Common symptoms included jaundice, rash, and abdominal pain. Thirteen had elevated transaminases, and 12 had elevated alkaline phosphatase. Pathologic changes were grouped into 5 histologic patterns: biliary-pattern injury (n=5), acute hepatitis (n=4), autoimmune hepatitis-like (n=1), fibroinflammatory mass-forming lesion (n=2), and no particular pattern (n=2). Nearly all showed portal and lobular lymphocytes and plasma cells; 12 had prominent histiocytes/Kupffer cells, 9 had ductular reaction, and 7 had duct inflammation. Occasional focal findings included dropout (n=7), phlebitis (n=7), and loose granulomata (n=5). Treponeme immunohistochemistry was positive in 10 and negative in 4, though treatment was given before biopsy in 3 of those 4. Thirteen patients had rapid plasma reagin testing either before or after biopsy, with 1:64 or higher titer. All patients who received treatment recovered. Hepatic syphilis is rare but likely underrecognized. It exhibits a variety of histologic appearances and therefore should be considered in several hepatic differential diagnoses, especially in men who have sex with men. Kupffer cells, granulomata, and phlebitis may suggest the diagnosis regardless of predominant histologic pattern. Negative treponeme immunohistochemical staining does not exclude the diagnosis, including in untreated patients.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Malvar, G; Cardona, D; Pezhouh, MK; Adeyi, OA; Chatterjee, D; Deisch, JK; Lamps, LW; Misdraji, J; Stueck, AE; Voltaggio, L; Gonzalez, RS

Published Date

  • April 1, 2022

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 46 / 4

Start / End Page

  • 567 - 575

PubMed ID

  • 34864775

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1532-0979

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1097/PAS.0000000000001848


  • eng

Conference Location

  • United States