Pathologic manifestations of levamisole-adulterated cocaine exposure

Amber L. Nolan, Kuang-Yu Jen

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

33 Scopus citations


Rheumatic manifestations of cocaine have been well described, but more recently, a dramatic increase in the levamisole-adulterated cocaine supply in the United States has disclosed unique pathologic consequences that are distinct from pure cocaine use. Most notably, patients show skin lesions and renal dysfunction in the setting of extremely high perinuclear anti-neutrophil cytoplasmic antibodies (p-ANCA). Unexpectedly, antibodies to myeloperoxidase, the typical target of p-ANCA, are relatively low if at all present. This discrepancy is due to the fact that p-ANCA seen in association with levamisole-adulterated cocaine exposure is often directed against atypical p-ANCA-associated antigens within the neutrophil granules such as human neutrophil elastase, lactoferrin, and cathepsin G. Biopsies of the skin lesions reveal leukocytoclastic vasculitis often involving both superficial and deep dermal vessels. Renal injury most typically manifests as crescentic and necrotizing pauci-immune glomerulonephritis. In this review, the manifestations of levamisole-adulterated cocaine-induced vasculitis are discussed with an emphasis on the typical histomorphologic findings seen on biopsy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number48
JournalDiagnostic Pathology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 1 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Anti-neutrophil cytoplasmic antibody
  • Cocaine
  • Glomerulonephritis
  • Leukocytoclastic
  • Levamisole
  • Pauci-immune
  • Vasculitis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Histology


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