MR of Toxoplasma encephalitis: signal characteristics on T2-weighted images and pathologic correlation

J Comput Assist Tomogr. May-Jun 1996;20(3):417-22. doi: 10.1097/00004728-199605000-00019.


Purpose: Our goal was to determine if there are any T2-weighted MR signal characteristics of Toxoplasma encephalitis that might be useful in diagnosis and/or in gauging the effectiveness of medical therapy.

Method: We retrospectively analyzed the MR, CT, thallium-201 SPECT brain scans, and medical records of 27 patients with medically proven (26) and biopsy proven (1) Toxoplasma encephalitis, supplemented by autopsy findings in 4 additional patients, 2 of whom had postmortem MR correlation. The neuropathologic literature was also reviewed.

Results: Among the 27 patients, we discovered three distinct imaging patterns. Ten (37%) patients had predominantly T2-weighted hyperintense lesions and had been on medical therapy an average of 3 days (excluding one outlier). Ten (37%) patients had T2-weighted isointense lesions and had received medical therapy an average of 61 days. Seven (26%) patients had lesions with mixed signal on T2-weighted images and had been on treatment an average of 6 days. Analysis of autopsy material from the four additional patients revealed the presence of organizing abscesses in three and necrotizing encephalitis in one, while the patient who had a brain biopsy demonstrated both types of pathologic lesions. In both cases having postmortem MRI, organizing abscesses appeared isointense to hypointense on T2-weighted images.

Conclusion: There is a definite variation in the appearance of lesions of Toxoplasma encephalitis on T2-weighted images that precludes a definitive diagnosis based on signal characteristics alone. Pathologically, our data suggest that T2-weighted hyperintensity correlates with necrotizing encephalitis and T2-weighted isointensity with organizing abscesses. Furthermore, in patients on medical therapy the T2-weighted MR appearance may be a transition from hyperintensity to isointensity as a function of a positive response to antibiotic treatment, indicating that the signal change might be used to gauge the effectiveness of medical therapy.

MeSH terms

  • AIDS-Related Opportunistic Infections / diagnosis
  • AIDS-Related Opportunistic Infections / pathology
  • Adult
  • Brain / pathology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Toxoplasmosis, Cerebral / diagnosis*
  • Toxoplasmosis, Cerebral / pathology