Varicella zoster virus, a cause of waxing and waning vasculitis: the New England Journal of Medicine case 5-1995 revisited

Neurology. 1996 Dec;47(6):1441-6. doi: 10.1212/wnl.47.6.1441.


A 73-year-old man developed an ill-defined fatal vasculitis involving the central nervous system. The case report was published as a clinicopathologic exercise in February 1995 in The New England Journal of Medicine. We restudied the pathologic material and found both varicella zoster virus (VZV) DNA and VZV-specific antigen, but not herpes simplex virus (HSV) or cytomegalovirus (CMV) DNA or HSV- or CMV-specific antigen, in three of the five cerebral arteries examined. The inflammatory response, disruption of the internal elastic lamina, and detection of viral antigen were patchy from one artery to another, as well as within a given artery. A search for VZV should be conducted in cases of vasculitis when both the central and peripheral nervous systems are involved, when focal narrowing is present in large arteries, when brain imaging reveals infarction in gray and white matter, both deep and superficial, and when white matter is disproportionally involved. Zosteriform rash is not required for diagnosis.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Chickenpox / complications*
  • DNA, Viral / analysis
  • Herpesvirus 3, Human / isolation & purification*
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Male
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Vasculitis / etiology*
  • Vasculitis / pathology


  • DNA, Viral