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March 1997

Brain Abscess in Solid Organ Transplant Recipients Receiving Cyclosporine-Based Immunosuppression

Author Affiliations

From the Department of Surgery (Drs Selby, Ramirez, Singh, Kleopoulos, Starzl, and Fung) and the Division of Transplantation Medicine (Dr Kusne), University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Pittsburgh, Pa.

Arch Surg. 1997;132(3):304-310. doi:10.1001/archsurg.1997.01430270090019

Objective:  To determine the incidence, clinical presentation, and outcome and confounding factors associated with the development of a brain abscess in solid organ transplant recipients.

Design:  A 14-year retrospective survey.

Setting:  A single, multiorgan, academic transplantation center.

Patients:  A total of 2380 liver transplant recipients, 1650 kidney transplant recipients, and 598 heart, heart-lung, or lung transplant recipients of all ages (pediatric and adult) were included. All patients were given cyclosporine-based immunosuppression during this period.

Main Outcome Measure:  A brain abscess was determined to be present if there was histological and/or microbiological confirmation of a brain lesion seen by a computed tomographic scan. A brain abscess was considered suspicious if radiographic findings were seen in the clinical setting of neurologic symptoms and fever without histological or microbiological confirmation.

Results:  A brain abscess developed in a total of 28 patients (0.61%) of the total study population. The frequency of brain abscess according to organ type was as follows: 0.63%, liver; 0.36%, kidney; and 1.17%, heart and heart-lung. The overall mortality was 86%. Complicating factors associated with fungal (Candida and Aspergillus sp) abscess formation included major subsequent operations, retransplantations, antirejection therapy, associated bacteremia or viremia, and multiorgan failure. The lung was the primary site of dissemination in 18 patients. Low-dose prophylactic amphotericin was ineffective in preventing a fungal brain abscess in 10 high-risk patients. Because of the ineffective therapy and the deadly nature of established fungal abscesses, full-dose antifungal therapy and reduced immunosuppression were warranted on identification of a high-risk clinical setting. Nonfungal abscesses (Nocardia and Toxoplasma sp) occurred in healthy graft recipients long after transplantation. The existing medical therapy is usually effective in these patients, provided that rapid tissue diagnosis is established.

Conclusions:  The epidemiological features of brain abscess formation after solid organ transplantation suggest 2 populations of patients exist that differ in timing, clinical setting, and response to therapy. For the chronically immunosuppressed outpatient, an established abscess should be empirically treated with sulfonamides until tissue diagnosis is confirmed. On the other hand, the acutely immunosuppressed posttransplant recipient, with defined risk factors, should receive full-dose therapy with amphotericin B and concomitantly lowered immunosuppression.Arch Surg. 1997;132:304-310

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