Spreading of multiple Listeria monocytogenes abscesses via central nervous system fiber tracts: case report

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  • 1 Divisions of Neurosurgery and
  • | 2 Neuroradiology, Hôpital Notre Dame, Montréal, Quebec, Canada; and
  • | 3 Service de Neurochirurgie, CHRU de Brest, France
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Animal studies have shown that Listeria monocytogenes can probably access the brain through a peripheral intraneural route, and it has been suggested that a similar process may occur in humans. However, thus far, its spreading through the central nervous system (CNS) has not been completely elucidated. The authors present a case of multiple L. monocytogenes cerebral abscesses characterized by a pattern of distribution that suggested spread along white matter fiber tracts and reviewed the literature to identify other cases for analysis. They elected to include only those cases with 3 or more cerebral abscesses to make sure that the distribution was not random, but rather followed a pattern. In addition, they included those cases with abscesses in both the brainstem and the cerebral hemispheres, but excluded cases in which abscesses were located solely in the brainstem.

Of 77 cases of L. monocytogenes CNS abscesses found in the literature, 17 involved multiple abscesses. Of those, 6 were excluded for lack of imaging and 3 because they involved only the brainstem. Of the 8 remaining cases from the literature, one was a case of bilateral abscesses that did not follow a fiber tract; another was also bilateral, but with lesions appearing to follow fiber tracts on one side; and in the remaining 6, to which the authors added their own case for a total of 7, all the abscesses were located exclusively in the same hemisphere and distributed along white matter fiber tracts.

The findings suggest that after entering the CNS, L. monocytogenes travels within the axons, resulting in a characteristic pattern of distribution of multiple abscesses along the white matter fiber tracts in the brain. This report is the first description suggesting intraaxonal CNS spread of L. monocytogenes infection in humans following its entry into the brain. This distinct pattern is clearly seen on imaging and its recognition may be valuable in the diagnosis of listeriosis. This finding may allow for earlier diagnosis, which may improve outcome.

ABBREVIATIONS

CNS = central nervous system; DTI = diffusion tensor imaging; SWI = susceptibility-weighted imaging.

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