Early trigeminal nerve involvement in Listeria monocytogenes rhombencephalitis: case series and systematic review

J Neurol. 2017 Sep;264(9):1875-1884. doi: 10.1007/s00415-017-8572-2. Epub 2017 Jul 20.


Listeria monocytogenes is associated with rhombencephalitis. However, the exact mechanisms of brainstem invasion remains poorly understood. Here, we demonstrate clinical and radiological data suggesting that Listeria may invade the brainstem via the trigeminal nerve. Three females (41, 64 and 70 years) with culture proven L. monocytogenes bacteremia and rhombencephalitis were investigated in the period of 2014-16. T2-weighted and contrast-enhanced T1-weighted MRI revealed a cerebellopontine abscess in all three patients, including the involvement of the trigeminal nerve root. In two patients, MRI also revealed selective contrast enhancement of the sensory trigeminal tract in the pons and medulla oblongata. Prior to any other neurological symptoms, two patients complained of hypoesthesia and a tingling sensation in the ipsilateral half of the face, consistent with sensory trigeminal nerve dysfunction on that side. In addition, we identified another 120 cases of Listeria rhombencephalitis following a systematic review. Cranial nerves VII, V, IX, and X, respectively, medulla oblongata, cerebellum and pons, were the most frequently involved brain structures. The present clinical and radiological findings corroborate earlier data from animal experiments, indicating that L. monocytogenes may be capable of retrograde intra-axonal migration along the cranial nerves. We suggest that in a subset of patients with rhombencephalitis L. monocytogenes enters the cerebellopontine angle through the trigeminal nerve, invading the brainstem via the sensory trigeminal nuclei.

Keywords: Brainstem encephalitis; Cerebral abscess; Gram-positive bacteria; Infectious diseases; Magnetic resonance imaging; Meningitis.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Encephalitis / diagnostic imaging
  • Encephalitis / etiology*
  • Encephalitis / microbiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Listeria monocytogenes / pathogenicity*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Meningitis, Listeria / complications*
  • Meningitis, Listeria / diagnostic imaging
  • Meningitis, Listeria / microbiology
  • Middle Aged
  • Rhombencephalon / diagnostic imaging
  • Rhombencephalon / microbiology*
  • Rhombencephalon / pathology
  • Trigeminal Nerve / diagnostic imaging
  • Trigeminal Nerve / pathology*
  • Trigeminal Nerve / physiopathology