Measurement of viral sequences in cerebrospinal fluid of AIDS patients with cerebral white-matter lesions using polymerase chain reaction

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To optimize the use of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) on cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) for the evaluation of central nervous system (CNS) white-matter lesions that along with clinical findings and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can allow a definite diagnosis to be made; also to evaluate treatment with zidovudine plus foscarnet.

Design and methods:

Fifteen AIDS patients with uncertain CNS white-matter lesions were identified. HIV-1 RNA, cytomegalovirus (CMV) and JC virus (JCV) DNA were measured in a total of 29 CSF samples. The results were correlated with clinical and MRI findings and treatment with zidovudine plus foscarnet was evaluated.


Four and five out of 15 patients with CMV DNA ≥ 1 : 625 and JCV DNA ≥ 103 copies/µl detected in the CSF were diagnosed with CMV and progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy (PML), respectively. Six patients who were CMV/JCV-negative with the highest levels of HIV RNA (median, 6.87 log10 copies/ml) in CSF were considered as having HIV-1 encephalitis. Neurological symptoms were non-supportive for diagnosis as was MRI in 11 out of 15 patients. Nine patients completed a 21-day course of zidovudine plus foscarnet. HIV RNA decreased irrespective of neurological diagnosis. All three HIV-1 encephalitis patients and two out of three patients with CMV leukoencephalopathy improved. In these two latter patients, relief of clinical symptoms coincided with decreased CMV DNA. JCV DNA remained unchanged and all three PML patients deteriorated.


Measurement of CSF viral sequences supports the diagnosis of CNS white-matter lesions in AIDS patients. While effective therapy for PML remains elusive, treatment including zidovudine plus foscarnet may be a promising option for HIV-1 and CMV-related manifestations.

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