Alveolar echinococcosis (AE) is caused by the metacestode stage of Echinococcus multilocularis. Differential diagnosis with cystic echinococcosis (CE) caused by E. granulosus and AE is challenging. We aimed at improving diagnosis of AE on paraffin sections of infected human tissue by immunohistochemical testing of a specific antibody.
We have analysed 96 paraffin archived specimens, including 6 cutting needle biopsies and 3 fine needle aspirates, from patients with suspected AE or CE with the monoclonal antibody (mAb) Em2G11 specific for the Em2 antigen of E. multilocularis metacestodes. In human tissue, staining with mAb Em2G11 is highly specific for E. multilocularis metacestodes while no staining is detected in CE lesions. In addition, the antibody detects small particles of E. multilocularis (spems) of less than 1 µm outside the main lesion in necrotic tissue, liver sinusoids and lymphatic tissue most probably caused by shedding of parasitic material. The conventional histological diagnosis based on haematoxylin and eosin and PAS stainings were in accordance with the immunohistological diagnosis using mAb Em2G11 in 90 of 96 samples. In 6 samples conventional subtype diagnosis of echinococcosis had to be adjusted when revised by immunohistology with mAb Em2G11.
Immunohistochemistry with the mAb Em2G11 is a new, highly specific and sensitive diagnostic tool for AE. The staining of small particles of E. multilocularis (spems) outside the main lesion including immunocompetent tissue, such as lymph nodes, suggests a systemic effect on the host.
Echinococcosis is a life-threatening disease in humans that is caused by the larval stages of the tapeworms Echinococcus multilocularis and Echinococcus granulosus. The eggs of the parasites are released with faeces of canids, and humans are aberrantly infected. In humans, the larval stages of the parasites cause tumour-like lesions mainly in the liver and the lungs. Precise diagnosis of the parasite responsible for human disease is of utmost importance since therapy regimens largely differ between cystic and alveolar echinococcosis. Diagnosis is based on serology, imaging and histology, the latter being the gold standard. However, conventional histology cannot always clearly identify the causative parasite because both parasites can cause human tissue to present similar features. Therefore, we have developed the monoclonal antibody Em2G11 and an immunohistological technique that allows a cheap and fast clear-cut diagnosis of E. multilocularis even on aspirates and small archived bioptic tissue samples. Furthermore, this technique disclosed an unknown feature of human alveolar echinococosis we called "small particles of E. multilocularis" (spems). We argue that these small particles represent micro-fragments of E. multilocularis and thus point to a new form of host-parasite interaction.