BACKGROUND - Graft-versus-host disease (GVHD) is a rare complication following liver transplantation and carries a poor prognosis with mortality approaching 90-95%. Diagnosis of GVHD is often delayed due to early symptoms mimicking more common, entities such as drug reactions and viral syndromes. To date, definitive diagnosis has been difficult and has relied on a constellation of clinical and histopathologic variables. We present the use of short tandem repeat DNA "fingerprinting" technology as a method of early, definitive diagnosis of GVHD in patients after liver transplantation.
METHODS - A patient status-postorthotopic cadaveric-liver transplant, with an uncomplicated immediate posttransplant course, presented 4 weeks after transplant with fever, diarrhea, and maculopapular rash on her palms, soles, and back. The patient's condition worsened despite empiric treatment for an infectious etiology. Skin and rectal biopsies were suspicious for GVHD.
RESULTS - DNA was isolated from the skin and rectal biopsies as well as from a donor lymph node. PCR amplification was done for nine highly polymorphic short tandem repeats for each specimen and a unique DNA "fingerprint" was obtained from each. DNA from skin and rectum demonstrated mixed chimerism with both donor and recipient alleles detected. Thorough analysis confirmed GVHD.
CONCLUSION - Short tandem repeats for DNA fingerprinting represents an efficient and reproducible method for the definitive diagnosis of GVHD after liver transplantation. Rapid detection of GVHD using this technology, coupled with early initiation of therapy, may lead to improved survival for patients with GVHD after solid organ transplant.