Hypogammaglobulinemia Treatment & Management

Updated: Dec 26, 2018
  • Author: Elizabeth A Secord, MD; Chief Editor: Michael A Kaliner, MD  more...
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Approach Considerations

Six distinct phenotypes of primary immunodeficiencies (PI) disease for which immunoglobulin replacement is or may be indicated include: (1) agammaglobulinemia due to absence of B cells; (2) hypogammaglobulinemia with poor antibody function; (3) normal immunoglobulins with poor antibody function; (4) hypogammaglobulinemia with normal antibody function; (5) isolated IgG subclass deficiency with recurrent infections; and (6) recurrent infections due to a complex immune mechanism related to a genetically defined PI disease. Recommendations are based on evidence categories ranging from quasi-experimental studies (IIb) to expert opinion.The list of PI diseases to be treated with immunoglobulins is likely to change in the future with better diagnosis and characterization of the diseases.

The goals of immunoglobulin (Ig) replacement therapy (IgRT) for patients with primary immunodeficiency is to provide adequate replacement immunoglobulins to minimize potentially fatal infections and prevent complications associated with the disease and improve quality of life. A brief overview of benefits of IgRT is in some of the phenotype of PI diseases is provided.  

Agammaglobulinemia due to absence of B cells

Both the X-linked (Bruton agammaglobulinemia), accounting for 85% of cases, and autosomal recessive forms are associated with extremely low number or absence of B cells. Agammaglobulinemia is characterized by serum IgG levels of less than 100 mg/dl, IgM of less than 20 mg/dl, IgA of less than 10 mg/dl, and peripheral CD-19+ B cell of less than 2%. The principal manifestation is recurrent upper and lower respiratory tract infections. A continual IgRT is an absolute necessity and is life saving. Retrospective analyses of data from agammaglobulinemic children have revealed that the number and severity of infectious complications are inversely correlated with the dose of IVIG administered. Serious bacterial infections and enteroviral meningoencephalitis were prevented when the IgG trough levels were maintained above 800 mg/dl.

Other combined PIs in which the production of antibodies is or can be abnormal

In these disorders, B-cell function and or numbers can be impaired, leading to an inability to generate effective antibody responses. The disorders for which immunoglobulin is variably used fall into three categories: (1) Milder forms of combined immunodeficiencies (such as that caused by partially functional mutations in recombinase-activating genes [RAG]) and (2) Combined immunodeficiencies with associated or syndromic features (such as Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome).

Diseases of immunodysregulation (such as CD27 deficiency). In SCID, immunoglobulin replacement is also necessary in the post-transplantation period, during gene therapy or enzyme replacement (for adenosine deaminase deficiency), until B-cell function is restored.

Hypogammaglobulinemia with impaired specific antibody production

CVID is the prototype of this category. The other includes unspecified hypogammaglobulinemia and hyper-IgM or antibody class-switch deficiency both X-linked type (CD 40L) and autosomal recessive type (activation induced cytidine deaminase, CD40 deficiency). This group is characterized by decreased immunoglobulin concentration and inability to respond with IgG antibody on protein or polysaccharide antigen challenge. These patients are prone for bacterial sinopulmonary infections, chronic lung disease and dysfunction. In patients with CVID early and adequate IgRT has shown to decrease both acute and chronic lung infections and its sequelae.

Normal levels of immunoglobulins with impaired specific-antibody production (selective antibody deficiency)

These patients have normal IgG levels are not hypogammaglobulinemia but have functional disorder with deficient response to polysaccharide antigen with pneumococcal vaccination pose a diagnostic and management challenge. IgRT is considered in settings of recurrent and severe infections, failure of antibiotics treatment or prophylaxis as a first line of treatment, complications of infections or antibiotics, impaired quality of life due to recurrent infections. Many of these patients’ particularly young children may require IgRT for limited time due to spontaneous recovery of responses to polysaccharide vaccine.

Hypogammaglobulinemia with normal-quality antibody response

This group includes transient hypogammaglobulinemia of infancy (THI). In patients with THI the IgG levels are lower than age specific normal during infancy and early childhood with or without lower IgM, IgA levels but specific antibody response is preserved as well as an intact cellular immunity. The definitive diagnosis is made only after correction of the immunoglobulin levels. Antibiotics both for treatment and prophylaxis is the initial step and IgG administration is only considered with antibiotic failure or significant recurrent infections. Continued close monitoring for recovery and excluding other causes of hypogammaglobulinemia is important.

Secondary hypogammaglobulinemia

Secondary hypogammaglobulinemia due to increased IgG loss can occur in may conditions (as discussed earlier) including chylothorax, lymphaniectasia, or protein-losing enteropathy or medications like anti seizure, corticosteroids or rituximab do not warrant IgG administration. However, the FDA has approved use of IgRT in patients with chronic lymphocytic lymphoma (CLL) and recurrent serious bacterial infections, low IgG levels, and sub protective antibody levels after vaccination. Numerous studies have shown the benefit of decreasing documented infections but without survival benefits.


Medical Care

IgG replacement therapy is the treatment of choice for most primary immunodeficiency syndromes, including X-linked agammaglobulinemia (Bruton disease; XLA), common variable immunodeficiency (CVID), severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID), hyper-IgM, adenosine deaminase (ADA) deficiency, and Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome (WAS). IgG is usually routinely administered intravenously (IVIG) or subcutaneously (SCIG). IgG replacement is usually needed for at least 1 year after hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT) in patients with SCID.

Patients with IgG subclass deficiency should not be given IVIG unless they fail to produce antibodies to protein and polysaccharide antigens and they have significant morbidity due to infection that cannot be managed with antibiotics alone. In selective IgA deficiency, IVIG therapy is not indicated.

Effort should be focused on the treatment of infections, allergic reactions, autoimmune diseases, and gastrointestinal diseases. Aggressive and prolonged antibiotic therapy covering S pneumoniae and H influenza is indicated. Because of the high frequency of G lamblia infection in these patients, an empiric course of metronidazole may result in dramatic improvement of the diarrhea and, to a certain extent, of malabsorption syndrome.

The treatment of secondary hypogammaglobulinemia is directed at the underlying cause. Successful treatment of nephrotic syndrome and protein-losing enteropathy may result in improvement of Ig levels.

IVIG is not indicated for the treatment of lymphoproliferative disorders, unless Ig levels are low in association with recurrent infections or if IVIG is being used for autoimmune conditions such as immune thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP) or immune hemolytic anemia, which may accompany these disorders.

Live vaccines (eg, bacille Calmette-Guérin, polio, measles, rubella, mumps) should not be given to patients with T-cell disorders, XLA, or other severe B-cell disorders or to the family members of such patients. In patients with IgA deficiency, live vaccines are not an absolute contraindication if given intramuscularly.

High doses of IVIG or intrathecal Ig may be beneficial in patients with XLA who have enteroviral meningoencephalitis.

HSCT is the treatment of choice for patients with SCID and, if a matched donor is available, for a patient with ADA deficiency. [1]

In patients with ADA deficiency who lack an HLA-identical sibling, enzyme replacement with polyethylene glycol-ADA (PEG-ADA) may be an effective alternative therapeutic agent.

Tumor necrosis factor (TNF) inhibitors have been used to treat granulomatous diseases in patients with CVID.

Gene therapy has been shown to be successful in reconstituting immune function in infants with X-linked SCID, but efficacy is less proven in older children and young adults. [16] Gene therapy for ADA deficiency is most effective when patients receive myeloablative chemotherapy and are withdrawn from PEG-ADA beforehand. Case series of ADA-deficient patients receiving gene therapy have shown excellent results at 4-year follow-up. [17]

Timely vaccination with the 13-valent pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV13) and the 23-valent pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPSV23) is a key component to prevention of B-cell disorders, with changes implemented in the order and interval period of PCV13 and PPSV23 administration. The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) has recommended routine administration of a dose of PCV13 followed at least 12 months later by a dose of PPSV23 for immunocompetent adults aged 65 years or older. For adults aged 65 years or older with immuncompromising conditions, functional or anatomic asplenia, cerebrospinal fluid leaks, or cochlear implants, ACIP has recommended an interval of at least 8 weeks between PCV13 and PPSV23 adminisration. ACIP also has recommended that all adults aged 65 years or older who already received PPSV23 should receive a dose of PCV13 at least 1 year after receiving PPSV23. [18]



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