An autopsied case of severe varicella zoster virus-associated encephalomyelitis under immunosuppressant therapy

Yasuhiro Maeda, Mitsuru Watanabe, Norihisa Maeda, Hidenori Ogata, Koji Shinoda, Toru Iwaki, Jun Ichi Kira

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The patient was a 40-year-old woman who was previously diagnosed with systemic lupus erythematosus and myasthenia gravis and had received prednisolone and tacrolimus for more than 7 years. In February 2017, she noticed pain in her lower back and weakness of the lower limbs, and was referred to our hospital on day 5. She had shingles in the right lower thoracic dermatomes and Brown-Séquard syndrome with right-sided dominant weakness in her lower limbs and left-sided superficial sensory disturbance below the L1 level. Varicella zoster virus (VZV)-associated myelopathy was suspected because of her symptoms and clinical findings. Despite the immediate administration of intravenous acyclovir after hospitalization, she lost consciousness and experienced a seizure related to cerebral hemorrhage in the left temporal lobe on the night of day 5. MRI showed enhanced lesions along the spinal cord and leptomeninges of the brainstem and temporal lobe. VZV-IgG and VZV-DNA were positive in the cerebrospinal fluid. Based on these clinical features and laboratory findings, she was diagnosed as VZV-associated vasculopathy and myelopathy. She subsequently had multiple cerebral infractions and hemorrhage, and developed sudden cardiopulmonary arrest on day 6, culminating in death on day 17. Autopsy showed that inflammatory mononuclear cells had infiltrated the vascular walls of the spinal cord. Immunohistochemistry revealed that some neurons and macrophages in the white matter of the spinal cord were positive for VZV. In addition, atrophic neurons, satellite cells surrounding these neurons, and infiltrating macrophages were immune-positive for VZV at the L2 dorsal root ganglia. These findings were consistent with VZV-associated vasculopathy and myelitis. Under immunosuppressive conditions, VZV can cause shingles and neuronal complications such as vasculopathy and myelitis, which are sometimes fatal despite the immediate administration of intravenous acyclovir. New treatment drugs or drugs to prevent VZV activation are desired.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)351-357
Number of pages7
JournalClinical Neurology
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Clinical Neurology


Dive into the research topics of 'An autopsied case of severe varicella zoster virus-associated encephalomyelitis under immunosuppressant therapy'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this