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BMC Med Imaging. 2016 Jan 18;16:8. doi: 10.1186/s12880-016-0113-4.

Paraneoplastic limbic encephalitis with associated hypothalamitis mimicking a hyperdense hypothalamic tumor: a case report.

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Department of Pharmacology and Pharmacy, Faculty of Medicine University of Colombo, PO Box 271, Kynsey Road, Colombo 8, Sri Lanka.
Department of Medicine, National Hospital, Ward Place, Colombo, Sri Lanka.



Paraneoplastic limbic encephalitis is an uncommon association of common malignancies such as small cell lung carcinoma, testicular teratoma, and breast carcinoma. The nonspecific nature of the clinical presentation, lack of freely available diagnostic markers, and requirement for advanced imaging techniques pose a great challenge in the diagnosis of this disease in resource-poor settings.


A 64-year-old previously healthy Sri Lankan man was admitted to the general medical unit with subacute memory impairment regarding recent events that had occurred during the previous 3 weeks. Initial noncontrast computed tomography of the brain revealed a hyperdensity in the hypothalamic region surrounded by hypodensities extending toward the bilateral temporal lobes; these findings were consistent with a possible hypothalamic tumor with perilesional edema. The patient later developed cranial diabetes insipidus, which was further suggestive of hypothalamic disease. Interestingly, gadolinium-enhanced magnetic resonance imaging of the brain showed no such lesions; instead, it showed prominent T2-weighted signals in the inner mesial region, characteristic of encephalitis. The possibility of tuberculosis and viral encephalitis was excluded based on cerebrospinal fluid analysis results. Limbic encephalitis with predominant hypothalamitis was suspected based on the radiological pattern. Subsequent screening for underlying malignancy revealed a mass lesion in the right hilum on chest radiographs. Histological examination of the lesion showed small cell lung cancer of the "oat cell" variety.


We suggest that the initial appearance of a hyperdensity in the hypothalamus region on noncontrast computed tomography is probably due to hyperemia caused by hypothalamitis. If hypothalamitis is predominant in a patient with paraneoplastic limbic encephalitis, magnetic resonance imaging will help to differentiate it from a hypothalamic secondary deposit. Limbic encephalitis should be considered in a patient with computed tomographic evidence of a central hyperdensity surrounded by bitemporal hypodensities. This pattern of identification will be useful for early diagnosis in resource-poor settings.

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