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J Neurol Sci. 1999 Feb 1;163(1):32-8.

HIV-associated primary CNS lymorbidity and utility of brain biopsy.

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Department of Neurology, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD 21287-7609, USA.



Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection is associated with several central nervous system (CNS) infections and neoplasms. These opportunistic processes generally occur with advanced immunosuppression, but if an accurate diagnosis is made, effective treatment can frequently be initiated.


In an attempt to assess the safety, diagnostic yield, and utility of stereotactic brain biopsy in the clinical management of suspected HIV-associated primary CNS lymphoma, we retrospectively studied the performance of biopsy in HIV-seropositive patients presenting with focal intracranial lesions. This analysis included 435 patients undergoing brain biopsy, identified through a local case series (n=47) combined with all published cases (n=388). The years of analysis for this study were 1984 and 1997. We also assessed the survival of HIV-associated intracranial mass lesions and of PCNSL patients treated at JHU.


Definitive histopathological diagnoses were established in eighty-eight percent of biopsied cases: primary CNS lymphoma (PCNSL) (30%), CNS toxoplasmosis (CNS TOXO) (16%), progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy (PML) (25%), and other specific diagnoses (17%). Post-biopsy morbidity within thirty days was 8.4% and mortality was 2.9%. PCNSL was the most common diagnosis among cases biopsied after failure of anti-toxoplasmosis therapy, 134/205 (65%). In the local case series, biopsy-related morbidity was associated with poor functional status, decreased platelet count, and number of lesions at presentation. The median survival of irradiated PCNSL cases was 29 days longer than untreated cases (median survival 50 days versus 21 days, respectively, Chi-square=6.73, P<0.01).


Stereotactic brain biopsy had a high diagnostic yield for HIV-associated focal intracranial lesions, however, the biopsy complication rate in this patient population was relatively high. PCNSL was diagnosed in the majority of patients failing anti-toxoplasmosis therapy. Survival after irradiation for PCNSL remains very poor.

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