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Progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy

Progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy (PML) is a rare infection that damages the material (myelin) that covers and protects nerves in the white matter of the brain.

Causes

The JC virus (JCV) causes PML. By age 10, most people have been infected with this virus. But it hardly ever causes symptoms. However, persons with a weakened immune system are at risk of developing PML. Causes of a weakened immune system include:

  • AIDS (less common now because of better AIDS treatments)
  • Certain medicines that suppress the immune system. Such medicines may be used to prevent organ transplant rejection or to treat multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and related conditions.
  • Cancers, such as leukemia and lymphoma

Symptoms


  • Loss of coordination, clumsiness
  • Loss of language ability (aphasia)
  • Memory loss
  • Vision problems
  • Weakness of the legs and arms that gets worse

Exams and Tests

Tests may include:

Treatment

In people with AIDS, treatment to strengthen the immune system can lead to recovery from the symptoms of PML. No other treatments have proved effective for PML.

Outlook (Prognosis)

PML is a life-threatening condition. Talk to your doctor about care decisions.

Alternative Names

PML

References

Tan CS, Koralnik IJ. JC, BK, and other polyomaviruses: progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy. In: Mandell GL, Bennett JE, Dolin R. Mandell, Douglas, and Bennett's Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Churchill-Livingstone; 2009:chap 145.

Weissert R. Progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy. Journal of Neuroimmunology. 2011;231 (1): 73-77.

Update Date: 2/24/2014

Updated by: Joseph V. Campellone, M.D., Division of Neurology, Cooper University Hospital, Camden, NJ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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