Neurological toxicities associated with chimeric antigen receptor T-cell therapy

Brain. 2019 May 1;142(5):1334-1348. doi: 10.1093/brain/awz053.


Chimeric antigen receptor T cell therapy has become an important tool in the treatment of relapsed and refractory malignancy; however, it is associated with significant neurological toxicity. We characterized the neurological toxicity associated with chimeric antigen receptor T-cell therapy in a consecutive series of 100 patients up to 2 months post transfusion, 28 of whom were obtained from chart review and the others by prospective observation. The underlying neoplasms were lymphoma (74%), myeloma (14%), leukaemia (10%), and sarcoma (2%). The median age of the cohort was 64.5 years old and 39% of patients were female. The most commonly occurring neurological symptoms were encephalopathy (57%), headache (42%), tremor (38%), aphasia (35%) and focal weakness (11%). Focal neurological deficits are frequently observed after chimeric antigen receptor T-cell therapy and are associated with regional EEG abnormalities, FDG-PET hypometabolism, and elevated velocities on transcranial Doppler ultrasound. In contrast, structural imaging was typically normal. As this form of treatment is more widely adopted, recognition of the frequently encountered symptoms will be of increasing importance for the neurologists and oncologists caring for this growing patient population.

Keywords: CAR T cells; immunotherapy; neurotoxicity.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immunotherapy, Adoptive / adverse effects*
  • Immunotherapy, Adoptive / trends
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasms / diagnostic imaging*
  • Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Nervous System Diseases / chemically induced*
  • Nervous System Diseases / diagnostic imaging*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Receptors, Chimeric Antigen / therapeutic use*
  • Young Adult


  • Receptors, Chimeric Antigen