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, thalamus, and cortex. These lesions 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): bovine-to-human transmission of bovine spongiform encephalopathy or mad cow disease (especially if in the UK between 1981-1996), subsequent human-to-human transmission (e.g. transfusion) of vCJD
  • familial (fCJD): 10% of cases (these individuals carry a PRPc mutation)
  • iatrogenic (iCJD): following administration of cadaveric human pituitary hormones (pre-1985), various transplants

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. Cerebellar symptoms may often be prominent and early in patients with iCJD secondary to cadaveric human pituitary hormones.

  • characteristic results on electroencephalography (EEG)
  • S100
  • CSF 14-3-3 protein: positive result in patient suspected clinically of having sCJD
  • CSF and/or olfactory mucosa real time quaking-induced conversion (RT-QuIC) seeding assays: detects minute amounts of the disease-specific pathologic prion protein 12,13
    • found to be more sensitive than CSF 14-3-3 protein titres 12

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 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.

  • 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.

CJD is a notifiable disease in most of the countries, including European Union countries, Australia, 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:

Share article

Article information

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

Support Radiopaedia and see fewer ads

Cases and figures

  • Drag
    Case 1
    Drag here to reorder.
  • Drag
    Classic appearance
    Case 2
    Drag here to reorder.
  • Drag
    Case 3
    Drag here to reorder.
  • Drag
    Case 4
    Drag here to reorder.
  • Drag
    Case 5
    Drag here to reorder.
  • Drag
    Asymmetric restri...
    Case 6
    Drag here to reorder.
  • Drag
    Case 7
    Drag here to reorder.
  • Drag
    Case 8
    Drag here to reorder.
  • Drag
    Case 9
    Drag here to reorder.
  • Drag
    Case 10
    Drag here to reorder.
  • Drag
    Case 11
    Drag here to reorder.
  • Drag
    Case 12
    Drag here to reorder.
  • Drag
    Case 13
    Drag here to reorder.
  • Drag
    Case 14
    Drag here to reorder.
  • Updating… Please wait.
    Loadinganimation

    Alert accept

    Error Unable to process the form. Check for errors and try again.

    Alert accept Thank you for updating your details.