Pembrolizumab-Induced Meningoencephalitis: A Brain Autopsy Case

Seigo Minami, Hideyasu Okada, Shoichi Ihara, Hiromi Tsuji, Misaki Yamadera, Hironao Yasuoka


Encephalitis is very rare, but often fatal immune-related adverse event (irAE) of immune checkpoint inhibitors (ICIs). A 65-year-old Japanese woman was admitted to our hospital because of general fatigue, chillness and high-grade fever for 4 days, 8 months after the initiation of the first-line pembrolizumab monotherapy for metastatic pulmonary adenocarcinoma. On the hospital day 3, she suddenly presented delirium and uncontrollable impaired consciousness. Although the magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) did not suggest a diagnosis of encephalitis and meningitis, the spinal fluid showed abnormally elevated levels of protein (317.6 mg/L) and cell count (197 cells/µL) with increased mononuclear cells (93%). An empirical and intravenous administration of acyclovir in doses of 10 mg/kg body weight every 8 h and steroid pulse therapy in dose of 1 g/body/day from the hospital day 5 until her death failed to improve her conditions. She died on the hospital day 8. The postmortem autopsy showed viable cancer cells in the metastatic tumor in the left occipital lobe and in the spinal fluids. However, many inflammatory cells infiltration in the meninges and perivascular cuffing were prominent especially in the brain stem and medial part of the temporal lobe. Infiltrating lymphocytes in the meninges and parenchyma of the brain stem were mainly composed of cluster of differentiation (CD)8-positive lymphocytes. For irAE encephalitis, early recognition of early signs and symptoms and subsequent early therapeutic intervention are necessary. It is important for oncologists to keep in mind of the possible adverse effects of immunotherapies on the nervous system.

J Med Cases. 2021;12(9):359-365


Pembrolizumab; Immune checkpoint inhibitor; Immune-related adverse event; Meningoencephalitis; Brain autopsy; High-grade fever; Non-small cell lung cancer; Lymphocyte infiltration

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