Neuroimaging findings in pediatric Wernicke encephalopathy: a review

Neuroradiology. 2010 Jun;52(6):523-9. doi: 10.1007/s00234-009-0604-x. Epub 2009 Oct 21.


Wernicke encephalopathy (WE) is an acute neurological disease resulting from dietary thiamine (vitamin B1) deficiency. WE is characterized by changes in consciousness, ocular dysfunction, and ataxia. Neuroradiologic findings usually show symmetric signal intensity alterations in the mammillary bodies, medial thalami, tectal plate, and periaqueductal area. Selective involvement of the cranial nerve nuclei, cerebellum, red nuclei, dentate nuclei, fornix, splenium, cerebral cortex, and basal ganglia characterize nonalcoholic WE patients. Furthermore, symmetric basal ganglia alterations with involvement of the putamen have only been observed in children. The incidence of WE is underestimated in both adult and pediatric patients. Interestingly, the frequency of WE in children appears to be similar to that observed in adults. The prognosis of the disease largely depends on the time from diagnosis to thiamine supplementation. The aim of this pediatric literature review is to provide an update on neuroradiologic findings in children affected by WE in an effort to determine pertinent clinical and imaging findings that can improve the detection and early identification of the disease. A thorough knowledge of the MRI findings of WE will assist in arriving at an early diagnosis, thereby reducing the morbidity and mortality associated with this disease in children.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Brain / pathology*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Diffusion Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Wernicke Encephalopathy / pathology*