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Polyarteritis nodosa was described in 1866 by Kussmaul and Maier. It is a multisystem, necrotizing vasculitis of small- and medium-sized muscular arteries in which involvement of the renal and visceral arteries is characteristic. Polyarteritis nodosa does not involve pulmonary arteries, although bronchial vessels may be involved; granulomas, significant eosinophilia, and an allergic diathesis are not observed.


It is difficult to establish an accurate incidence of polyarteritis nodosa because previous reports have included polyarteritis nodosa and microscopic polyangiitis as well as other related vasculitides. Polyarteritis nodosa, as currently defined, is felt to be a very uncommon disease.


The vascular lesion in polyarteritis nodosa is a necrotizing inflammation of small- and medium-sized muscular arteries. The lesions are segmental and tend to involve bifurcations and branchings of arteries. They may spread circumferentially to involve adjacent veins. However, involvement of venules is not seen in polyarteritis nodosa and, if present, suggests microscopic polyangiitis (see below). In the acute stages of disease, polymorphonuclear neutrophils infiltrate all layers of the vessel wall and perivascular areas, which results in intimal proliferation and degeneration of the vessel wall. Mononuclear cells infiltrate the area as the lesions progress to the subacute and chronic stages. Fibrinoid necrosis of the vessels ensues with compromise of the lumen, thrombosis, infarction of the tissues supplied by the involved vessel, and, in some cases, hemorrhage. As the lesions heal, there is collagen deposition, which may lead to further occlusion of the vessel lumen. Aneurysmal dilations up to 1 cm in size along the involved arteries are characteristic of polyarteritis nodosa. Granulomas and substantial eosinophilia with eosinophilic tissue infiltrations are not characteristically found and suggest eosinophilic granulomatosis with polyangiitis (Churg-Strauss) (see above).

Multiple organ systems are involved, and the clinicopathologic findings reflect the degree and location of vessel involvement and the resulting ischemic changes. As mentioned above, pulmonary arteries are not involved in polyarteritis nodosa, and bronchial artery involvement is uncommon. The pathology in the kidney in classic polyarteritis nodosa is that of arteritis without glomerulonephritis. In patients with significant hypertension, typical pathologic features of glomerulosclerosis may be seen. In addition, pathologic sequelae of hypertension may be found elsewhere in the body.

The presence of a polyarteritis nodosa–like vasculitis in patients with hepatitis B together with the isolation of circulating immune complexes composed of hepatitis B antigen and immunoglobulin and the demonstration by immunofluorescence of hepatitis B antigen, IgM, and complement in the blood vessel walls strongly suggest the role of immunologic phenomena in the pathogenesis of this disease. A polyarteritis nodosa–like vasculitis has also been reported in patients with hepatitis C. Hairy cell leukemia can be associated with polyarteritis nodosa; the pathogenic mechanisms of this association are unclear.


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