Diagnosis and treatment of cerebral vasculitis

Ther Adv Neurol Disord. 2010 Jan;3(1):29-42. doi: 10.1177/1756285609347123.


Vasculitides are characterized by inflammation and necrosis of the blood vessel wall. Large vessels including the aorta are affected in giant-cell arteritis, medium-size arteries in classic polyarteritis nodosa. The small-vessel vasculitides are separated in those with antineutrophil cytoplasm antibodies (ANCA) and those without. The primary angiitis of the central nervous system (PACNS) is a rare disorder affecting both medium- and small-sized vessels. Major symptoms of cerebral vasculitis are stroke, headache and encephalopathy. Diagnosis is based on laboratory and imaging findings. When cerebral affection occurs in systemic vasculitis an acute inflammatory response with raised erythrocyte sedimentation rate and increased values of C-reactive protein is present. In many cerebral vasculitides including PACNS, CSF studies reveal inflammatory findings. Magnetic resonance imaging, including ADC maps, diffusion and gradient echo sequences, is the investigation of choice to detect and monitor cerebral involvement. Certain MRI techniques and 18-fluorodeoxyglucose positron emission tomography allow the visualization of vessel wall inflammation when the lumen is still unaffected on angiography. The treatment recommendations for cerebral angitis are derived from protocols for systemic vasculitides. In general, a combination of steroids and pulse cyclophosphamide (CYC) is recommended for induction treatment. An alternative option is the use of the anti- CD20 antibody rituximab. Methotrexate, azathioprine and mycophenolate mofetil are recommended as alternatives to CYC once remission is achieved.

Keywords: Vasculitis; angiitis; angiography; antibodies; giant cell arteritis; immunosuppressants; steroids; stroke.