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Diffusion-weighted MRI for early diagnosis of neonatal herpes simplex encephalitis.

AIM: To determine the early changes and evolutions of brain diffusion-weighted imaging (DWI), and analyze prognostic factors of the early changes among patients with neonatal herpes simplex encephalitis (NHSE).

METHOD: We selected patients who developed encephalitis by 28 d after birth; had herpes simplex infection; and who underwent magnetic resonance imaging, including DWI, ⩽7 d of symptom onset. Thirty-two DWI scans between 0 and 28 d after onset in 13 patients and the clinical data were recruited. The distribution, evolution of the lesions, and neurological outcome were analyzed.

RESULTS: DWI frequently showed multiple cortical lesions in both hemispheres in the early period and both hemispheres on DWI (8/9 scans at ⩽48 h, 7/7 patients). As time from onset increased, the cortical lesions tended to coincide with subcortical white matter lesions beneath the initial cortical lesions (p<0.01). Lesions from the cortex extended to the subcortical white matter in 7 patients. Deep cerebral lesions, involving basal ganglia, internal capsules, thalamus, were also found in 9 patients ⩽7 d of onset. The distributions of deep cerebral lesions (none/unilateral/bilateral) ⩽7 d of onset showed significant correlations with neurological prognoses (gross motor functions: p<0.01; developmental or intellectual quotient scores: p<0.01).

INTERPRETATION: Cortical lesions were main findings of DWI in NHSE in the early period. Bilateral deep cerebral lesions ⩽7 d were highly indicative of poor motor and cognitive outcomes.

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