Tissue eosinophils and the perils of using skin biopsy specimens to distinguish between drug hypersensitivity and cutaneous graft-vs.-host disease.

Marra D, McKee P, Nghiem P.

J Am Acad Dermatol. 2004 Oct;51(4):543-6.

PMID: 15389188

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Graft-versus-host disease (GvHD) is a frequent and serious complication of bone-marrow transplantation (BMT), and carries a high morbidity and mortality if not promptly recognized and treated. The rash of acute GvHD is often difficult to distinguish clinically from a drug eruption, and skin biopsies are often performed in an attempt to render a diagnosis. Histologically, eosinophils are classically associated with hypersensitivity reactions, and their presence in inflamed tissue is considered suggestive of a drug-induced dermatitis. We present 3 cases of acute exanthema in BMT recipients in whom the presence of eosinophils on skin biopsy specimen led to an initial diagnosis of drug eruption over GvHD. As a result, these patients experienced delays in the institution of definitive immunosuppressive therapy for GvHD. We review the growing literature suggesting that no single or combined histologic feature, including tissue eosinophils, is useful in differentiating GvHD from drug eruptions in BMT recipients. Indeed, in most cases, the cause of a new-onset blanchable erythematous rash in a BMT recipient is most accurately determined by close examination and follow-up of the clinical features without a skin biopsy.

J Am Acad Dermatol. 2004 Oct;51(4):543-6.