Treatment of diffuse intrinsic brainstem gliomas: failed approaches and future strategies

A review

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Diffuse intrinsic pontine gliomas constitute ~ 60–75% of tumors found within the pediatric brainstem. These malignant lesions present with rapidly progressive symptoms such as cranial nerve, long tract, or cerebellar dysfunctions. Magnetic resonance imaging is usually sufficient to establish the diagnosis and obviates the need for surgical biopsy in most cases. The prognosis of the disease is dismal, and the median survival is < 12 months. Resection is not a viable option. Standard therapy involves radiotherapy, which produces transient neurological improvement with a progression-free survival benefit, but provides no improvement in overall survival. Clinical trials have been conducted to assess the efficacy of chemotherapeutic and biological agents in the treatment of diffuse pontine gliomas. In this review, the authors discuss recent studies in which systemic therapy was administered prior to, concomitantly with, or after radiotherapy. For future perspective, the discussion includes a rationale for stereotactic biopsies as well as possible therapeutic options of local chemotherapy in these lesions.

Abbreviations used in this paper: BBB = blood-brain barrier; BCNU = carmustine; CED = convection-enhanced delivery; FDG-PET = [18F]fluorodeoxyglucose–PET.

Article Information

Address correspondence to: George I. Jallo, M.D., Division of Pediatric Neurosurgery, Johns Hopkins Hospital, Harvey 811, 600 North Wolfe Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21287. email:

© AANS, except where prohibited by US copyright law.



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    Illustration demonstrating various locations of brainstem tumors. A denotes the tectal plate; B, the focal intrinsic midbrain; C, the focal intrinsic pontine; D, the dorsal exophytic pontine; E, the diffuse pontine; F, the focal intrinsic medullary; and G, the dorsal exophytic medullary.

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    Left: Axial T2-weighted MR image demonstrating a diffuse pontine glioma. Right: Sagittal T1-weighted MR image with Gd contrast showing the pontine glioma. There is mild enhancement.

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    A and B: Sagittal and axial FDG-PET images coregistered with CT scans demonstrating a focal hypermetabolic area in the pons suggestive of a high-grade glioma. C and D: Sagittal and axial T1-weighted MR images obtained with Gd contrast demonstrating irregular enhancement. The areas of enhancement correspond to the areas of hypermetabolic activity on the FDG-PET coregistered with CT scans.

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    Left: Artist's illustration showing the position of the rat and angle for tumor implantation. Right: Artist's rendering showing the anatomy of the rat brainstem, the location that is resected, the trajectory of the needle, and the location of tumor implantation. (Reproduced with permission from Lee J, Jallo GI, Guarnieri M, Carson BS, Penno MB: A novel brainstem tumor model: guide screw technology with functional, radiological, and histopathological characterization. Neurosurg Focus 18(6A):E11, 2005, by the American Association of Neurosurgeons. Modified for a typographic correction only.



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