Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease

Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) is a spongiform encephalopathy that results in a rapidly progressive dementia and other non-specific neurological features and death usually within a year or less from onset.  

On imaging, it classically manifests as T2/FLAIR hyperintensities within the basal ganglia, the thalamus, and cortex which also show diffusion restriction on DWI/ADC sequences. 

Four types of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease have been described 2,6:

  • sporadic (sCJD): accounts for 85-90% of cases
  • variant (vCJD): mad cow disease, Kuru 
  • familial (fCJD): 10% of cases (these individuals carry a PRPc mutation)
  • iatrogenic

Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease is characterised by rapidly progressive dementia, cerebral atrophy, myoclonus, and death. Patients with vCJD present mostly with sensory and psychiatric symptoms; patients with sCJD usually present with progressive cognitive impairment and cerebellar symptoms.

Diagnostic markers
  • characteristic results on electroencephalography (EEG)
  • S100
  • CSF 14-3-3 protein: positive result in patient suspected clinically of having sCJD

A definitive diagnosis requires a brain biopsy, although in many institutions the difficulty involved in sterilising equipment renders a biopsy undesirable. 

CJD is thought to be mediated via (infectious) prions, a type of protein, which manifests in sheep as the disease scrapie, and in cows as bovine spongiform encephalopathy. Prions are considered infectious in the sense that they can alter the structure of neighbouring proteins. 

CJD leads to spongiform degeneration of the brain, which is thought to be caused by the conversion of normal prion protein to proteinaceous infectious particles that accumulate in and around neurons and lead to cell death.


MRI findings may be bilateral or unilateral and symmetric or asymmetric, and include:

  • T2:  hyperintensity
  • DWI/ADC: persistent restricted diffusion (considered the most sensitive sign)

Review of sequential studies also typically demonstrates rapidly progressive cerebral atrophy.

Nuclear medicine 
  • hypometabolism on 18FDG-PET studies

There is currently no curative treatment and the disease is invariably fatal with a mean survival of only 7 months for most cases.

Since 2009, CJD is a notifiable disease in Australia and by law is required to be reported to the Department of Health. CJD is also notifiable in the United Kingdom, USA and Canada.

It was named after Hans Gerhard Creutzfeldt, a German neurologist who first described the condition in 1920, and Alfons Maria Jakob, a German neurologist who also described the condition in a separate study. 

MRI imaging features overlap with many other conditions but the presentation will be different 10,11:

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Article Information

rID: 7269
Section: Pathology
Synonyms or Alternate Spellings:
  • Creutzfeld-Jakob disease
  • CJD
  • vCJD
  • sCJD
  • fCJD

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