Clinical and neuropathological variability in clinically isolated central nervous system Whipple's disease

Mircea Balasa, Ellen Gelpi, M J Rey, Jordi Vila, Lluís Ramió-Torrentà, Ana Ma Quiles Granado, Ricard Molina Latorre, Hubert Lepidi, Didier Raoult, Albert Saiz
Brain Pathology 2014, 24 (3): 230-8
Central nervous system Whipple's disease (CNS-WD) with clinically isolated neurological involvement is a rare condition fatal without an early diagnosis. We aimed to present clinical and neuropathological features of three cases of pre- or post-mortem polymerase chain reaction confirmed CNS-WD with distinct clinical presentation, outcome and pathological findings. One patient had an acute onset with spinal and brainstem involvement and died without CNS-WD diagnosis after 14 weeks. Neuropathology showed extensive inflammatory and necrotizing lesions with abundant foamy periodic-acid-Schiff (PAS)+ macrophages. The second patient had a subacute evolution with late CNS-WD diagnosis and death occurring 18 months after onset despite antibiotic treatment. Brain examination showed inflammatory lesions in the brainstem, thalamus and cerebellum, and abundant foamy PAS+ macrophages. The third case was diagnosed within 4 weeks of onset and treated with an excellent response. He died after a disease-free period of 24 months of unrelated causes. Neuropathology showed cystic residual lesions devoid of microorganisms without inflammatory reaction. CNS-WD may have an acute or subacute course with variable response to treatment. Accordingly, subjacent lesions may be those of a severe acute necrotizing encephalitic process or subacute inflammatory lesions involving diencephalic, brainstem, cerebellar and spinal regions. Chronic, cavitary brain lesions may be sequelae of a successful treatment. Early diagnosis should allow appropriate treatment and improve prognosis.

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