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A misleading case of CSF cytology: a cautionary tale
  1. Thomas Parker1,
  2. Colin Mahoney1,
  3. Deborah Pencharz2,
  4. Kate Cwynarski3,
  5. Rebecca Liu1
  1. 1Department of Neurology, Royal Free Hospital, London, UK
  2. 2Department of Nuclear Medicine, Royal Free Hospital, London, UK
  3. 3Department of Haematology, Royal Free Hospital, London, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Thomas Parker thomasparker{at}

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A previously healthy right-handed 48-year-old man presented initially with a 5-day history of progressive left facial weakness. He was diagnosed with Bell's palsy and discharged home; he fully recovered over 4 weeks. As he presented relatively late, he was not prescribed oral corticosteroids. Six months later, he developed a band of pain radiating around his back that persisted for 2 weeks. There was no radiation down his legs and no bladder or bowel involvement. Several days later he noted lower limb weakness and horizontal diplopia, both of which worsened over 2 months until he re-presented to hospital.

On examination, he had impaired upgaze and adduction of his left eye with diplopia, consistent with a partial left third nerve palsy, although at this point he had no ptosis and his pupils were equal and reactive. There was no other cranial nerve involvement, and upper limb examination was normal. Power was reduced (4/5) in all muscle groups in his legs with absent knee and ankle jerks, flexor plantar responses and distal sensory loss to all modalities.

Nerve conductions studies showed only bilateral carpal tunnel lesions with normal motor and sensory studies. Electromyography (EMG) suggested a nerve root or upper motor neurone problem with regular firing rates in the weak leg muscles. MR scan of brain and whole spine with gadolinium showed diffuse abnormal enhancement throughout intradural leptomeningeal structures. This was particularly evident around the lumbar expansion and conus medullaris, and to a lesser extent around the cervical cord and lower brainstem. Intracranial enhancement was most obvious within bilateral cisternal segments of the oculomotor and trigeminal nerves (figure 1), and within both internal auditory …

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  • Contributors TP, CM and RL conceived and initiated this report. TP wrote the paper and all authors commented on drafts, had access to all data, and reviewed the paper. TP, CM, KC and RL managed the patient. DP commented on the radiology images. TP is guarantor.

  • Competing interests None.

  • Patient consent Obtained.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed. This paper was refereed by Robin Grant from Edinburgh.

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