Progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy: value of diffusion-weighted and contrast-enhanced magnetic resonance imaging for diagnosis and treatment control

Eur J Neurol. 2006 Aug;13(8):819-26. doi: 10.1111/j.1468-1331.2006.01362.x.


Progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy (PML) is caused by the replication of JC virus in oligodendrocytes of immunocompromised patients. Diagnosis usually relies on the polymerase chain reaction (PCR)-based demonstration of JC virus DNA in the cerebrospinal fluid. As previous reports have suggested that some patients may benefit from antiviral therapy, non-invasive early diagnosis is highly desirable. Repetitive magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) examinations (two to nine) were obtained in seven patients (aged 40-67 years, six males, one female) with classical clinical and imaging findings of PML. Five patients had underlying hematological disorders and two acquired immune deficiency syndrome. PCR of the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) specimen was positive for JC virus DNA in six patients. MRI sequences included T2-, T1- and diffusion-weighted (DW) images in all patients and diffusion-tensor imaging (DTI) in four cases. DTI was once performed at 3T, in the remaining patients at 1.5T. All patients received antiviral treatment with cidofovir in addition to the treatment of the underlying disorder. MRI showed areas of T2 hyperintensity with involvement of the subcortical U-fibers and restricted diffusion in all patients. Areas of diffusion abnormality correlated with disease progress. Contrast enhancement was encountered once after successful treatment and heralded clinical remission with virus elimination from the CSF. Hence, MRI including DW and contrast-enhanced images may be used to evaluate disease activity. Contrast enhancement may indicate an inflammatory response and thus herald immunologic virus elimination.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Brain / pathology
  • Contrast Media*
  • Diffusion Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Leukoencephalopathy, Progressive Multifocal / cerebrospinal fluid
  • Leukoencephalopathy, Progressive Multifocal / pathology*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Weights and Measures


  • Contrast Media