Progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy

Radswiki et al.

Progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy (PML) is a demyelinating disease which results from the reactivation of John Cunningham virus (JC virus) infecting oligodendrocytes in patients with compromised immune systems. It is considered the most common clinical manifestation of JC virus infection in the brain 7, and is seen in three clinical contexts:

  1. PML due to immunocompromised state
  2. PML-s-IRIS: simultaneous development of IRIS and PML due to immune reconstitution
  3. PML-d-IRIS: immune reconstitution worsens preexisting PML

Progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy is strongly associated with immunosuppressed states, particularly AIDS, but also can occur in transplant patients and leukaemia 4,17. The incidence in the non-HIV settings is thought to be increasing. Primary PML developing in an immunocompetent patient is very rare.

In AIDS, it typically develops in patients with CD4 counts of 50-100 cells/uL, and is found in approximately 5% of autopsies of patients who died from AIDS 2.

More recently it has also been associated with Natalizumab (Tysabri TM), an IgG monoclonal antibody used in the treatment of relapsing remitting multiple sclerosis 5.

In addition to being seen in immunocompromised patients, it is also seen in patients whose immune function is recovering, and PML is one of the classic conditions encountered in immune reconstitution inflammatory syndrome (IRIS) 16.

Patients with PML present with various neurological symptoms. It typically spares the optic nerve and the spinal cord. The most frequently encountered symptoms include:

  • altered mental status
  • motor deficits
  • limb and gait ataxia
  • visual symptoms (diplopia and hemianopia)
  • seizure (as PML can also involve the grey matter in late stage)

The final diagnosis is established with brain biopsy (specificity: 100%, sensitivity: 65-95%).

Aetiology

PML lesions are secondary to progressive demyelination due to John Cunningham (JC) virus (usually reactivation) which infects oligodendrocytes. In PML seen in HIV/AIDS, reactivation is typically seen when CD4 cell count drops below 100 17

Location

Lesions tend to have a confluent, bilateral but asymmetrical supratentorial white matter and thalamic involvement 7. However, basal ganglia, brain stem and cerebellum also can be involved. Subcortical frontal and parietooccipital regions are common locations. However, isolated posterior fossa involvement has also been reported 15. While the condition invariably involves white matter, subcortical U-fibers and in late stages of disease grey matter involvement is also seen 6.

Histology

Histology reveals demyelinating plaques involving the white matter and subcortical U-fibers. Other findings include infected oligodendrocytes with enlarged amphophilic nuclei located at the periphery of the lesions, macrophages containing phagocytosed cellular debris and myelin, and reactive gliosis with enlarged astrocytes 13.

CT

Asymmetric focal zones of low attenuation involving the periventricular and subcortical white matter. This is in distinction to more symmetrical hypo-attenuations seen in HIV encephalopathy.

MRI

Typically seen as multifocal, asymmetric periventricular and subcortical involvement. There is little or no mass effect or enhancement 10 and the subcortical U-fibers are commonly involved with a predilection for the parieto-occipital regions 17. Corpus callosum may be involved 17

  • T1: involved regions are usually hypointense
  • T2: involved regions are hyperintense
  • T1 C+ (Gd)
    • typically there is no enhancement 10
    • enhancement can be seen in PML-IRIS, AIDS with HAART, and in patients on natalizumab 16,17
    • when enhancement is present it may be associated with improved survival 3,17
  • MR spectroscopy: according to one study spectra of PML lesions were characterised by significantly reduced NAA, lactate presence, and by significantly increased Cho and lipids compared with control group values 8
  • ADC/DWI: peripheral patchy diffusion restriction 14

Prognosis is generally poor with an inexorable neurologic decline leading to coma and death occurring in the majority of patients with PML 9. If untreated, PML is usually fatal within 1 year, ofen within 2 to 6 months 17. Treatment with highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) may prolong survival, although in some instances this leads to PML-IRIS. Some reports also state some benefit with cytarabine.

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Article Information

rID: 12098
Section: Pathology
Synonyms or Alternate Spellings:
  • Progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy (PML)
  • PML
  • Progressive multifocal leukoencephalitis
  • Progressive multifocal leucoencephalopathy (PML)

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    Case 1: HIV patient on HAART
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    January T2
    Case 3: in immunocompetent patient - rare
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    Case 4: atypical PML
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    Case 5: PML in HIV patient
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    Case 6
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    Case 7
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    Case 8
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    Case 9: interval scans with progression
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