Subacute sclerosing panencephalitis manifesting as viral retinitis: clinical and histopathologic findings

Am J Ophthalmol. 1997 Apr;123(4):533-42. doi: 10.1016/s0002-9394(14)70179-5.


Purpose and methods: To describe the clinical and histopathologic features of a patient with viral retinitis secondary to subacute sclerosing panencephalitis.

Results: The patient was a human immunodeficiency virus-negative intravenous drug abuser with an acute retinitis that later progressed to encephalitis despite aggressive treatment for possible viral, protozoal, bacterial, and rickettsial infections. The patient had many of the characteristic findings of subacute sclerosing panencephalitis, including a history of measles in early childhood, myoclonus, periodic complexes on electroencephalographic testing, persistently elevated serum and cerebrospinal fluid antimeasles immunoglobulin G (IgG) titers, and a cerebrospinal fluid oligoclonal IgG gammopathy. Ultrastructural examination demonstrated numerous filamentous microtubular intranuclear viral inclusions in the nuclear layers of the retina consistent with the measles virus. This case is unusual in that our patient developed subacute sclerosing panencephalitis later in life and because there was an 8-year period between presumed viral infections in the two eyes.

Conclusions: An acute retinitis in an intravenous drug abuser is not always caused by human immunodeficiency virus-related infections; not all viral retinitis responds to therapy; and mortality as well as the usual morbidity may be associated with viral retinitis. One might consider the diagnosis of subacute sclerosing panencephalitis in a young person with an acute retinitis with little or no vitreal inflammation and lack of response to anticytomegalovirus and antitoxoplasmosis therapy.

Publication types

  • Case Reports

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / therapeutic use
  • Antibodies, Viral / cerebrospinal fluid
  • Eye Infections, Viral / drug therapy
  • Eye Infections, Viral / etiology*
  • Eye Infections, Viral / pathology
  • Fatal Outcome
  • Fluorescein Angiography
  • Fundus Oculi
  • HIV Seronegativity
  • Humans
  • Immunoglobulin G / analysis
  • Male
  • Measles / drug therapy
  • Measles / etiology*
  • Measles / pathology
  • Measles virus / immunology
  • Measles virus / isolation & purification
  • Measles virus / ultrastructure
  • Retina / pathology
  • Retina / virology
  • Retinitis / drug therapy
  • Retinitis / pathology
  • Retinitis / virology*
  • Subacute Sclerosing Panencephalitis / complications*
  • Subacute Sclerosing Panencephalitis / drug therapy
  • Subacute Sclerosing Panencephalitis / pathology


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Antibodies, Viral
  • Immunoglobulin G