Serum proteomics reveals hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis-like phenotype in a subset of patients with multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children

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Children with Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MIS-C) can present with thrombocytopenia, which is a key feature of hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis (HLH). We hypothesized that thrombocytopenic MIS-C patients have more features of HLH. Clinical characteristics and routine laboratory parameters were collected from 228 MIS-C patients, of whom 85 (37%) were thrombocytopenic. Thrombocytopenic patients had increased ferritin levels; reduced leukocyte subsets; and elevated levels of ASAT and ALAT. Soluble IL-2RA was higher in thrombocytopenic children than in non-thrombocytopenic children. T-cell activation, TNF-alpha and IFN-gamma signaling markers were inversely correlated with thrombocyte levels, consistent with a more pronounced cytokine storm syndrome. Thrombocytopenia was not associated with severity of MIS-C and no pathogenic variants were identified in HLH-related genes. This suggests that thrombocytopenia in MIS-C is not a feature of a more severe disease phenotype, but the consequence of a distinct hyperinflammatory immunopathological process in a subset of children.