A 36-year-old Japanese woman presented with progressive cerebellar signs and mental deterioration of subacute course after her return from the USA. Her serum antibody to spirochete Borrelia burgdorferi was significantly elevated. A necropsy 4 years after her initial neurological signs revealed multifocal inflammatory change in the cerebral cortex, thalamus, superior colliculus, dentate nucleus, inferior olivary nucleus and spinal cord. The lesions showed spongiform change, neuronal cell loss, astrocytosis and proliferation of activated microglial cells. The internal capsule was partially vacuolated and the spinal cord, notably at the thoracic level, was demyelinated and cavitated in the lateral funiculus. Microglial cells aggregated within and around the spongiform lesions and microglial nodules were present in the medulla oblongata. Use of Warthin-Starry stain demonstrated silver-impregnated organisms strongly suggesting B. burgdorferi in the central nervous tissues. The dentate nucleus and inferior olivary nucleus showed the most advanced lesions with profound fibrillary gliosis. Occlusive vascular change was relatively mild, and fibrous thickening of the leptomeninges with lymphocyte infiltrates was localized in the basal midbrain. The ataxic symptoms were due to the dentate and olivary nucleus lesions and mental deterioration was attributable to the cortical and thalamic lesions. Spongiform change, neuronal cell loss, and microglial activation are characteristic pathological features in the present case. The cerebellar ataxia and subsequent mental deterioration are unusual clinical features of Lyme neuroborreliosis. Spirochete B. burgdorferi can cause focal inflammatory parenchymal change in the central nervous tissues and the present case may be an encephalitic form of Lyme neuroborreliosis.
Dementia and Geriatric Cognitive Disorders
Dement Geriatr Cogn Disord. 1997 Nov-Dec;8(6):384-90