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Chediak-Higashi Syndrome

  • Author: Roman Janusz Nowicki, MD, PhD; Chief Editor: Dirk M Elston, MD  more...
Updated: Aug 24, 2015


Chédiak-Higashi syndrome (CHS) is a rare childhood autosomal recessive disorder that affects multiple systems of the body. Patients with CHS exhibit hypopigmentation of the skin, eyes, and hair; prolonged bleeding times; easy bruisability; recurrent infections; abnormal natural killer cell function; and peripheral neuropathy. Morbidity results from patients succumbing to frequent bacterial infections or to an accelerated-phase lymphoproliferation into the major organs of the body. The accelerated phase of CHS is termed hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis (HLH), and it develops in 50-85% of patients; it is fatal if not treated. Most patients who do not undergo bone marrow transplantation die of a lymphoproliferative syndrome, although some patients with CHS have a relatively milder clinical course of the disease. The adult form of CHS has a milder course, with no lymphohistiocytic infiltration. It is characterized by neurological manifestations such as polyneuropathy, parkinsonism, dementia, and ataxia. In young adults, a combination of these defects with oculocutaneous albinism or recurrent infections should bring CHS into consideration. Diagnosis is established by the presence of characteristic eosinophilic peroxidase-positive giant granules in leukocytes.

CHS was first described over 60 years ago by Beguez-Cesar (1943) in three siblings bearing the main clinical features of neutropenia and abnormal granules in leukocytes. Chédiak, a Cuban hematologist, reported another case in 1952, and, in 1954, Higashi, a Japanese pediatrician, described a series of cases characterized by misdistribution of myeloperoxidase in the neutrophilic granules of affected patients.[1, 2, 3]



Chédiak-Higashi syndrome (CHS) is an autosomal recessive immunodeficiency disorder characterized by abnormal intracellular protein transport. The Chédiak-Higashi syndrome gene was characterized in 1996 as the LYST or CHS1 gene and is localized to bands 1q42-43. The CHS protein is expressed in the cytoplasm of cells of a variety of tissues and may represent an abnormality of organellar protein trafficking.[4]

The CHS gene affects the synthesis and/or maintenance of storage/secretory granules in various types of cells. Lysosomes of leukocytes and fibroblasts, dense bodies of platelets, azurophilic granules of neutrophils, and melanosomes of melanocytes are generally larger in size and irregular in morphology, indicating that a common pathway in the synthesis of organelles responsible for storage is affected in patients with CHS. In the early stages of neutrophil maturation, normal azurophil granules fuse to form megagranules, whereas, in the later stage (ie, during myelocyte stage), normal granules are formed. The mature neutrophils contain both populations. A similar phenomenon occurs in monocytes. The impaired function in the polymorphonuclear leukocytes may be related to abnormal microtubular assembly.

The disease is often fatal in childhood as a result of infection or an accelerated lymphomalike phase; therefore, few patients live to adulthood. In these patients, a progressive neurologic dysfunction may be the dominant feature. Neurologic involvement is variable but often includes peripheral neuropathy. The mechanism of peripheral neuropathy in CHS has not been completely elucidated. Both the axonal type and the demyelinating type of peripheral neuropathy associated with CHS have been reported.

Defective melanization of melanosomes occurs in oculocutaneous albinism associated with CHS. In melanocytes, autophagocytosis of melanosomes occurs.

Most patients also undergo an accelerated phase or accelerated reaction, which is a nonmalignant lymphohistiocytic lymphomalike infiltration of multiple organs that occurs in more than 80% of patients. This lymphomalike stage is precipitated by viruses, particularly by infection by the Epstein-Barr virus. It is associated with anemia, bleeding episodes, and overwhelming infections leading to death. Infections most commonly involve the skin, the lungs, and the respiratory tract and are usually due to Staphylococcus aureus, Streptococcus pyogenes, and Pneumococcus species.




Chédiak-Higashi syndrome (CHS) is rare, with fewer than 500 cases published worldwide over the last 20 years.[5, 6] In a nationwide survey in Japan, 15 patients were diagnosed during a period of 11 years (2000-2010), indicating that one or two patients with CHS were diagnosed each year.[3]


Chédiak-Higashi syndrome (CHS) affects all races. Al-Khenaizan suggests that CHS may be underreported in persons of darker-skinned races.[7]


Symptoms of Chédiak-Higashi syndrome (CHS) usually appear soon after birth or in children younger than 5 years. The mean age of onset is 5.85 years; however, most patients die before age 10 years.[3]

Contributor Information and Disclosures

Roman Janusz Nowicki, MD, PhD Professor and Chairman, Department of Dermatology, Venereology and Allergology, Medical University of Gdansk, Poland

Roman Janusz Nowicki, MD, PhD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Dermatology, European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology, International Society for Human and Animal Mycology

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Specialty Editor Board

Michael J Wells, MD, FAAD Associate Professor, Department of Dermatology, Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, Paul L Foster School of Medicine

Michael J Wells, MD, FAAD is a member of the following medical societies: Alpha Omega Alpha, American Academy of Dermatology, American Medical Association, Texas Medical Association

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Robert A Schwartz, MD, MPH Professor and Head of Dermatology, Professor of Pathology, Pediatrics, Medicine, and Preventive Medicine and Community Health, Rutgers New Jersey Medical School; Visiting Professor, Rutgers University School of Public Affairs and Administration

Robert A Schwartz, MD, MPH is a member of the following medical societies: Alpha Omega Alpha, New York Academy of Medicine, American Academy of Dermatology, American College of Physicians, Sigma Xi

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Chief Editor

Dirk M Elston, MD Professor and Chairman, Department of Dermatology and Dermatologic Surgery, Medical University of South Carolina College of Medicine

Dirk M Elston, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Dermatology

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Additional Contributors

Jacek C Szepietowski, MD, PhD Professor, Vice-Head, Department of Dermatology, Venereology and Allergology, Wroclaw Medical University; Director of the Institute of Immunology and Experimental Therapy, Polish Academy of Sciences, Poland

Disclosure: Received consulting fee from Orfagen for consulting; Received consulting fee from Maruho for consulting; Received consulting fee from Astellas for consulting; Received consulting fee from Abbott for consulting; Received consulting fee from Leo Pharma for consulting; Received consulting fee from Biogenoma for consulting; Received honoraria from Janssen for speaking and teaching; Received honoraria from Medac for speaking and teaching; Received consulting fee from Dignity Sciences for consulting; .

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