Dementia following treatment of brain tumors with radiotherapy administered alone or in combination with nitrosourea-based chemotherapy: a clinical and pathological study

J Neurooncol. 1999 Jan;41(2):137-49. doi: 10.1023/a:1006183730847.


A retrospective clinical and pathological study of 4 patients who developed the syndrome of radiation induced dementia was performed. All patients fulfilled the following criteria: (1) a history of supratentorial irradiation; (2) no evidence of symptomatic recurrent tumor; (3) no other cause of progressive cerebral dysfunction and dementia. The clinical picture consisted of a progressive "subcortical" dementia occurring 3-12 months after a course of cerebral radiotherapy. Examination revealed early bilateral corticospinal tract involvement in all patients and dopa-resistant Parkinsonian syndrome in two. On CT scan and MRI of the brain, the main features consisted of progressive enlargement of the ventricles associated with a diffuse hypodensity/hyperintensity of the white matter best seen on T2 weighted images on MRI. The course was progressive over 8-48 months in 3 patients while one patient had stabilization of his condition for about 28 years. Treatment with corticosteroids or shunting did not produce sustained improvement and all patients eventually died. Pathological examination revealed diffuse white matter pallor with sparing of the arcuate fibers in all patients. Despite a common pattern on gross examination, microscopic studies revealed a variety of lesions that took two basic forms: (1) a diffuse axonal and myelin loss in the white matter associated with tissue necrosis, particularly multiple small foci of necrosis disseminated in the white matter which appeared different from the usual "radionecrosis"; (2) diffuse spongiosis of the white matter characterized by the presence of vacuoles that displaced the normally-stained myelin sheets and axons. Despite a rather stereotyped clinical and radiological course, the pathological substratum of radiation-induced dementia is not uniform. Whether the different types of white matter lesions represent the spectrum of a single pathological process or indicate that the pathogenesis of this syndrome is multifactorial with different target cells, remains to be seen.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Brain / pathology
  • Brain Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Brain Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Brain Neoplasms / radiotherapy*
  • Combined Modality Therapy
  • Dementia / diagnostic imaging
  • Dementia / etiology*
  • Dementia / pathology
  • Fatal Outcome
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nitrosourea Compounds / therapeutic use*
  • Radiation Injuries / complications*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed


  • Nitrosourea Compounds