Hemophagocytic Lymphohistiocytosis Secondary to PD-1 and IDO Inhibition in a Patient with Refractory Glioblastoma

Rohit Thummalapalli, Thatcher Heumann, Julie Stein, Sarah Khan, David S. Priemer, Amy S. Duffield, John Laterra, Rima Couzi, Michael Lim, Matthias Holdhoff

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Immune checkpoint inhibition (ICI)-based approaches have transformed the treatment landscape of numerous solid tumors. Glioblastoma (GBM) is an aggressive and almost universally fatal disease which is in need of novel treatment options, and combinations of immune checkpoint inhibitors, including dual agent therapy, are starting to be explored in refractory GBM. Growing adoption of ICI-based approaches in solid tumors has been met with improved understanding of immune-related adverse events (IRAEs), including primary hematologic adverse events. Although management guidelines for multiple hematologic IRAEs have been established, the emergence of hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis (HLH) secondary to ICI therapy has only rarely been described, and its pathogenesis and optimal management are incompletely understood. We present the case of a 74-year-old male with a history of refractory GBM treated with PD-1 and indoleamine-pyrrole 2,3-dioxygenase (IDO) inhibition who experienced acute liver injury, followed by progressive fevers, altered mental status, and cytopenias. Serum studies and examination of spleen and bone marrow pathology were consistent with HLH, which was refractory to steroids and ultimately resulted in his rapid clinical decline. Here, we review prior cases of HLH secondary to ICI therapy across solid tumors, and explore potential mechanisms contributing to the rapid onset and refractory nature of our patient's HLH syndrome. We hope to further highlight HLH as an emerging hematologic IRAE secondary to ICI therapy, and suggest that new practice guidelines begin to recognize HLH as a characteristic hematologic IRAE in patients treated with PD-1 and other immune checkpoint inhibitors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)508-514
Number of pages7
JournalCase Reports in Oncology
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2020


  • 3-dioxygenase
  • Glioblastoma
  • Hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis
  • Immune checkpoint inhibition
  • Immune-related adverse events
  • Indoleamine-pyrrole 2
  • Programmed cell death receptor-1

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology


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