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Corticosteroid-responsive focal granulomatous herpes simplex type-1 encephalitis in adults
  1. Aravinthan Varatharaj1,2,
  2. James AR Nicoll2,3,
  3. Emanuela Pelosi4,
  4. Ashwin A Pinto2
  1. 1 Clinical Neurosciences, University of Southampton, Southampton, UK
  2. 2 Wessex Neurological Centre, University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust, Southampton, UK
  3. 3 Department of Cellular Pathology, University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust, Southampton, UK
  4. 4 Department of Microbiology and Virology, Public Health England Regional Laboratory, University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust, Southampton, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Aravinthan Varatharaj, Wessex Neurological Centre, University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust, Tremona Road, Southampton, SO16 6YD, UK; a.varatharaj{at}


We describe corticosteroid-responsive focal granulomatous encephalitis as a manifestation of herpes simplex virus (HSV) type 1 disease in the brain: something easily missed and easily treated. Two adult cases presented with cognitive symptoms progressing over weeks, despite aciclovir treatment. Brain imaging showed temporal lobe abnormalities, with gadolinium enhancement but no abnormal diffusion restriction. HSV-1 PCR analysis was negative in cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) but positive in brain biopsies, which showed vasocentric granulomatous inflammation. Paired blood and CSF samples showed intrathecal synthesis of HSV-1 type-specific IgG. The patients improved clinically only after immunosuppression. Despite profound cognitive impairment at their clinical nadir, both patients recovered fully. We suggest that, at least in a subset of patients with HSV-1 encephalitis, adjunctive corticosteroid treatment is critical to improve the outcome of the disease.


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  • Acknowledgements We thank the Public Health England Virus Reference Department (Colindale, London) for providing the testing for intrathecal herpes simplex virus IgG on paired cerebrospinal fluid and serum samples.

  • Contributors AV drafted the original manuscript. JARN analysed the brain pathology and wrote the relevant section. EP analysed the virological studies. AAP reviewed the case histories for both patients.

    All authors contributed to the discussion, reviewed the whole paper and gave final approval of the version to be published.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent Obtained.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed. This paper was reviewed by Nick Davies, London, UK.

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