Brain and spinal cord lesions in leprosy: A magnetic resonance imaging-based study.
Neurotropism and infiltration by of peripheral nerves causing neuropathy are well established, but reports of central nervous system (CNS) damage are exceptional. We report CNS magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) abnormalities of the brain and spinal cord as well as lesions in nerve roots and plexus in leprosy patients. Eight patients aged between 17 and 41 years underwent detailed clinical, histopathological, and MRI evaluation. All had prominent sensory-motor deficits with hypopigmented and hypo/anesthetic skin patches and thickened peripheral nerves. All demonstrated DNA in affected peripheral nerve tissue. All received multidrug therapy (MDT). Two patients had brainstem lesions with enhancing facial nuclei and nerves, and one patient had a lesion in the nucleus ambiguus. Two patients had enhancing spinal cord lesions. Follow-up MRI performed in four cases showed resolution of brainstem and cord lesions after starting on MDT. Thickened brachial and lumbosacral plexus nerves were observed in six and two patients, respectively, which partially resolved on follow-up MRI in the two cases who had reimaging. The site and side of the MRI lesions corresponded with the location and side of neurological deficits. This precise clinico-radiological correlation of proximal lesions could be explained by an immune reaction in the gray matter corresponding to the involved peripheral nerves, retrograde axonal and gray matter changes, or infection of the CNS and plexus by lepra bacilli. Further study of the CNS in patients with leprous neuropathy is needed to establish the exact nature of these CNS MRI findings.