Primary central nervous system vasculitis (PCNSV) is an uncommon condition in which lesions are limited to vessels of the brain and spinal cord. Because the clinical manifestations are not specific, the diagnosis is often difficult, and permanent disability and death are frequent outcomes. This study is based on a cohort of 163 consecutive patients with PCNSV who were examined at the Mayo Clinic over a 29-year period from 1983 to 2011. The aim of the study was to define the characteristics of these patients, which represents the largest series in adults reported to date. A total of 105 patients were diagnosed by angiographic findings and 58 by biopsy results. The patients diagnosed by biopsy more frequently had at presentation cognitive dysfunction, greater cerebrospinal fluid total protein concentrations, less frequent cerebral infarcts, and more frequent leptomeningeal gadolinium-enhanced lesions on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), along with less mortality and disability at last follow-up. The patients diagnosed by angiograms more frequently had at presentation hemiparesis or a persistent neurologic deficit or stroke, more frequent infarcts on MRI and an increased mortality. These differences were mainly related to the different size of the vessels involved in the 2 groups. Although most patients responded to therapy with glucocorticoids alone or in conjunction with cyclophosphamide and tended to improve during the follow-up period, an overall increased mortality rate was observed. Relapses occurred in one-quarter of the patients and were less frequent in patients treated with prednisone and cyclophosphamide compared with those treated with prednisone alone. The mortality rate and degree of disability at last follow-up were greater in those with increasing age, cerebral infarctions on MRI, angiographic large vessel involvement, and diagnosis made by angiography alone, but were lower in those with gadolinium-enhanced lesions on MRI and in those with cerebral amyloid angiopathy. The annual incidence rate of PCNSV was estimated at 2.4 cases per 1,000,000 person-years. PCNSV appears to consist of several subsets defined by the size of the vessels involved, the clinical characteristics at presentation, MRI findings, and histopathological patterns on biopsy. Early recognition and treatment may reduce poor outcomes.
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