Adult syncytial giant cell hepatitis (GCH) is an uncommon and often fulminant form of hepatitis that may be caused by infection with a novel paramyxo-like virus. We present the case of a 69-yr-old man who presented with acute, community-acquired hepatitis and chronic lymphocytic leukemia. A liver biopsy showed the typical findings of panlobular syncytial giant cell hepatitis. Electron microscopic examination demonstrated abundant nucleocapsid-like protein material in the cytoplasm and nuclei of affected hepatocytes. These structures were similar to, but distinct from, those of known paramyxoviridae, suggesting infection with a novel, related virus. In situ hybridization studies with a probe directed against the measles fusion protein gene gave a positive signal with a hepatocyte distribution. No signal was obtained with the measles nucleocapsid protein probe, suggesting that the disease agent was genetically distinct from, but related to, the measles virus. Subsequent liver biopsies were characterized by the gradual disappearance of the giant cell changes and by the concomitant development of cirrhosis. This is a case of adult GCH that resolved spontaneously and led to cirrhosis, thus implicating GCH as a potential cause of 'cryptogenic' liver disease. Our findings provide further support for the existence of a distinct, as yet unidentified viral species as a cause of this disease.
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