Adenovirus Colitis in Human Immunodeficiency Virus Infection: An Underdiagnosed Entity

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Adenovirus infection of the gastrointestinal tract in human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)-infected patients is rarely reported, probably because of a lack of familiarity of most pathologists with diagnostic criteria during routine light microscopy and possible misidentification as cytomegalovirus infection. We studied colonoscopic biopsy specimens from 135 HIV-infected patients with clinically suspected cytomegalovirus colitis during a 4.5-year period to morphologically identify the presence of adenovirus infection. Immunohistochemical staining for adenovirus was performed for confirmation on all suspected cases. Adenovirus infected cells showed characteristic amphophilic or eosinophilic nuclear inclusions, predominantly affecting the surface epithelium and characteristically involving goblet cells. Sixteen cases showed morphologic features of adenovirus infection, all confirmed by immunohistochemistry. Twelve cases also showed cytomegalovirus infection, whereas 4 showed adenovirus alone. In 10 cases, adenovirus colitis was not recognized during initial routine histopathologic diagnostic evaluation. Adenovirus inclusions also were discovered in the stomach, the duodenum, and the liver in single cases. Conclusions are as follows: (1) Adenovirus colitis has been underdiagnosed at our institution and, we suspect, in general. (2) The morphologic features and nuclear inclusions of adenovirus colitis are characteristic and can be identified reliably by routine light microscopy. (3) Adenovirus infection also may be diagnosed morphologically in extracolonic sites, such as the stomach, the small intestine, and the liver. (4) Coinfection of adenovirus with cytomegalovirus and other agents is seen frequently, but, less frequently, adenovirus may be identified as a sole pathogen.

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