Neurological adverse events associated with immune checkpoint inhibitors: Review of the literature

Eur J Cancer. 2017 Mar:73:1-8. doi: 10.1016/j.ejca.2016.12.001. Epub 2017 Jan 5.


Immune checkpoint inhibitors (ICIs) targeting CTLA4 and PD1 constitute a promising class of cancer treatment but are associated with several immune-related disorders. We here review the literature reporting neurological adverse events (nAEs) associated with ICIs. A systematic search of literature, up to February 2016, mentioning nAEs in patients treated with ICIs was conducted. Eligible studies included case reports and prospective trials. One case seen in our ward was also added. Within the 59 clinical trials (totalling 9208 patients) analysed, the overall incidence of nAEs was 3.8% with anti-CTLA4 antibodies, 6.1% with anti-PD1 antibodies, and 12.0% with the combination of both. The clinical spectrum of neurological disorders was highly heterogeneous. Most of these nAEs were grade 1-2 and consisted of non-specific symptoms such as headache (55%). The incidence of high grade nAEs was below 1% for all types of treatment. Headaches, encephalopathies and meningitis were the most commonly reported (21%, 19% and 15%, respectively). Among the 27 case reports, the most common nAEs were encephalopathies, meningoradiculoneuritis, Guillain-Barré like syndromes and myasthenic syndromes. The median time of nAEs onset was 6 weeks. In most cases, drug interruption and steroids led to neurological recovery, even in conditions where steroids are not usually recommended such as Guillain-Barré syndrome.

Keywords: Anti-CTLA4; Anti-PD1; Immune checkpoint inhibitors; Neurological adverse events.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antibodies, Monoclonal / adverse effects*
  • Antineoplastic Agents / adverse effects*
  • CTLA-4 Antigen / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Humans
  • Immunotherapy / adverse effects*
  • Immunotherapy / methods
  • Incidence
  • Molecular Targeted Therapy / adverse effects*
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Nervous System Diseases / chemically induced*
  • Nervous System Diseases / epidemiology
  • Programmed Cell Death 1 Receptor / antagonists & inhibitors*


  • Antibodies, Monoclonal
  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • CTLA-4 Antigen
  • CTLA4 protein, human
  • Programmed Cell Death 1 Receptor