Posterior reversible encephalopathy syndrome: clinical and radiological manifestations, pathophysiology, and outstanding questions

Lancet Neurol. 2015 Sep;14(9):914-925. doi: 10.1016/S1474-4422(15)00111-8. Epub 2015 Jul 13.


Almost two decades have elapsed since posterior reversible encephalopathy syndrome (PRES) was described in an influential case series. This usually reversible clinical syndrome is becoming increasingly recognised, in large part because of improved and more readily available brain imaging. Although the pathophysiological changes underlying PRES are not fully understood, endothelial dysfunction is a key factor. A diagnosis of PRES should be considered in the setting of acute neurological symptoms in patients with renal failure, blood pressure fluctuations, use of cytotoxic drugs, autoimmune disorders, or eclampsia. Characteristic radiographic findings include bilateral regions of subcortical vasogenic oedema that resolve within days or weeks. The presence of haemorrhage, restricted diffusion, contrast enhancement, and vasoconstriction are all compatible with a diagnosis. In most cases, PRES resolves spontaneously and patients show both clinical and radiological improvements. The range of symptoms that can comprise the syndrome might be broader than usually thought. In its mild form, this disorder might cause only one clinical symptom (headache or seizure) and radiographically might show few areas of vasogenic oedema or even normal brain imaging in some rare cases. In severe forms, PRES might cause substantial morbidity and even mortality, most often as a result of acute haemorrhage or massive posterior fossa oedema causing obstructive hydrocephalus or brainstem compression.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain / diagnostic imaging*
  • Brain / physiopathology*
  • Endothelium, Vascular / diagnostic imaging
  • Endothelium, Vascular / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Posterior Leukoencephalopathy Syndrome / diagnostic imaging*
  • Posterior Leukoencephalopathy Syndrome / physiopathology*
  • Posterior Leukoencephalopathy Syndrome / therapy
  • Radiography