Neuropathology of the spinal cord in the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome

Hum Pathol. 1992 Oct;23(10):1106-14. doi: 10.1016/0046-8177(92)90028-2.


The neuropathologic findings in the spinal cord were reviewed in 138 consecutive autopsies of patients with the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome. In all cases both the brain and spinal cord were examined by conventional histologic techniques, and in 63 cases immunohistochemistry was used to detect human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), Toxoplasma gondii, cytomegalovirus, and JC papovavirus antigens. The most common observation was a normal spinal cord (60%). Vacuolar myelopathy (VM) was observed in 23 (17%) cases. Human immunodeficiency virus myelitis was evident in 8% of cases. Human immunodeficiency virus myelitis was associated with HIV encephalitis in 65% of the cases. Opportunistic infections of the spinal cord were uncommon, consisting of cryptococcosis (five cases), cytomegalovirus (four cases), toxoplasmosis (one case), and progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy (one case), and almost always were seen with cerebral and/or systemic infection by these agents. Malignant lymphoma rarely involved the spinal cord (four cases); all were B-cell lymphomas and were associated with cerebral and/or systemic lymphoma. Other abnormalities rarely observed were Wallerian degeneration of the corticospinal tracts or posterior columns (6%) and focal microinfarcts. Most cases of VM (78%) were not associated with HIV myelitis, and in the five patients with both VM and HIV myelitis, HIV-infected cells were not found in the regions affected by VM. In contrast, 65% of cases with VM were associated with HIV encephalitis. The pathogenesis of VM remains unknown; it is probably not due to direct infection by HIV.

MeSH terms

  • Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome / complications*
  • Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome / pathology*
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Autopsy
  • Brain Diseases / microbiology
  • Brain Diseases / pathology
  • Central Nervous System Diseases / microbiology*
  • Central Nervous System Diseases / pathology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Myelitis / microbiology
  • Myelitis / pathology
  • Spinal Cord Diseases / microbiology
  • Spinal Cord Diseases / pathology