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Handb Clin Neurol. 2013;114:65-88. doi: 10.1016/B978-0-444-53490-3.00005-4.

Pathology of CNS parasitic infections.

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Pathology Service, Hospital das Clínicas, Medical Faculty of Ribeirão Preto, University of São Paulo, Ribeirão Preto, São Paulo, Brazil. Electronic address:


Parasitic infections of the central nervous system (CNS) include two broad categories of infectious organisms: single-celled protozoa and multicellular metazoa. The protozoal infections include malaria, American trypanosomiasis, human African trypanosomiasis, toxoplasmosis, amebiasis, microsporidiasis, and leishmaniasis. The metazoal infections are grouped into flatworms, which include trematoda and cestoda, and roundworms or nematoda. Trematoda infections include schistosomiasis and paragonimiasis. Cestoda infections include cysticercosis, coenurosis, hydatidosis, and sparganosis. Nematoda infections include gnathostomiasis, angiostrongyliasis, toxocariasis, strongyloidiasis, filariasis, baylisascariasis, dracunculiasis, micronemiasis, and lagochilascariasis. The most common route of CNS invasion is through the blood. In some cases, the parasite invades the olfactory neuroepithelium in the nasal mucosa and penetrates the brain via the subarachnoid space or reaches the CNS through neural foramina of the skull base around the cranial nerves or vessels. The neuropathological changes vary greatly, depending on the type and size of the parasite, geographical strain variations in parasitic virulence, immune evasion by the parasite, and differences in host immune response. Congestion of the leptomeninges, cerebral edema, hemorrhage, thrombosis, vasculitis, necrosis, calcification, abscesses, meningeal and perivascular polymorphonuclear and mononuclear inflammatory infiltrate, microglial nodules, gliosis, granulomas, and fibrosis can be found affecting isolated or multiple regions of the CNS, or even diffusely spread. Some infections may be present as an expanding mass lesion. The parasites can be identified by conventional histology, immunohistochemistry, in situ hybridization, and PCR.


Parasitic infections; brain; central nervous system; pathogenesis; pathology; spinal cord

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