MR imaging of adult acute infectious encephalitis

Abstract : Background. – Imaging is a key tool for the diagnosis of acute encephalitis. Brain CT scan must be urgently performed to rule out a brain lesion with mass effect that would contraindicate lumbar puncture. Brain MRI is less accessible than CT scan, but can provide crucial information with patients presenting with acute encephalitis. Method. – We performed a literature review on PubMed on April 1, 2015 with the search terms " MRI " and " encephalitis ". Results. – We first described the various brain MRI abnormalities associated with each pathogen of acute encephalitis (HSV, VZV, other viral agents targeting immunocompromised patients or travelers; tuberculosis, listeriosis, other less frequent bacterial agents). Then, we identified specific patterns of brain MRI abnomalies that may suggest a particular pathogen. Limbic encephalitis is highly suggestive of HSV; it also occurs less frequently in encephalitis due to HHV6, syphillis, Whipple's disease and HIV primary infection. Rhombencephalitis is suggestive of tuberculosis and listeriosis. Acute ischemic lesions can occur in patients presenting with severe bacterial encephalitis, tuberculosis, VZV encephalitis, syphilis, and fungal infections. Conclusion. – Brain MRI plays a crucial role in the diagnosis of acute encephalitis. It detects brain signal changes that reinforce the clinical suspicion of encephalitis, especially when the causative agent is not identified by lumbar puncture; it can suggest a particular pathogen based on the pattern of brain abnormalities and it rules out important differential diagnosis (vascular, tumoral or inflammatory causes).
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Anne Bertrand, Delphine Leclercq, Laurent Martinez-Almoyna, Nadine Girard, J.-P Stahl, et al.. MR imaging of adult acute infectious encephalitis. Médecine et Maladies Infectieuses, Elsevier Masson, 2017, ⟨10.1016/j.medmal.2017.01.002⟩. ⟨hal-01490868⟩



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