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Clinical Pathologic Conference
November 2016

Rapidly Progressive Quadriplegia and Encephalopathy

Author Affiliations
  • 1Department of Neurology, University of Utah, Salt Lake City
JAMA Neurol. 2016;73(11):1363-1366. doi:10.1001/jamaneurol.2016.1622

A woman aged 77 years was transferred to our neurocritical care unit for evaluation and treatment of rapidly progressive motor weakness and encephalopathy. Examination revealed an ability to follow simple commands only and abnormal movements, including myoclonus, tongue and orofacial dyskinesias, and opsoclonus. Imaging study findings were initially unremarkable, but when repeated, they demonstrated enhancement of the cauda equina nerve roots, trigeminal nerve, and pachymeninges. Cerebrospinal fluid examination revealed mildly elevated white blood cell count and protein levels. Serial electrodiagnostic testing demonstrated a rapidly progressive diffuse sensory motor axonopathy, and electroencephalogram findings progressed from generalized slowing to bilateral periodic lateralized epileptiform discharges. Critical details of her recent history prompted a diagnostic biopsy. Over time, the patient became completely unresponsive with no further abnormal movements and ultimately died. The differential diagnosis, pathological findings, and diagnosis are discussed with a brief review of a well-known yet rare diagnosis.