Complications of immunosuppressive/immunomodulatory therapy in neurological diseases

Avindra Nath, Joseph R. Berger

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


The first critical step in the appropriate treatment of neurological infectious disease accompanying immunosuppressive states or immunomodulatory medication is to properly identify the offending organism. Broadly immunosuppressive conditions will predispose to both common and uncommon infectious diseases. There are substantial differences between neurological infectious disorders complicating disturbances of the innate immunity (neutrophils, monocytes and macrophages) and those due to abnormal adaptive immunity (humoral and cellular immunity). Similarly, there are differences in the types of infections with impaired humoral immunity compared to disturbed cellular immunity and between T- and B-cell disorders. HIV/AIDS has been a model of acquired immunosuppression and the nature of opportunistic infections with which it has been associated has been well characterized and generally correlates well with the degree of CD4 lymphopenia. Increasingly, immunotherapies target specific components of the immune system, such as an adhesion molecule or its ligand or surface receptors on a special class of cells. These targeted perturbations of the immune system increase the risk of particular infectious diseases. For instance, natalizumab, an a4β1 integrin inhibitor that is highly effective in multiple sclerosis, increases the risk of progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy for reasons that still remain unclear. It is likely that other therapies that result in a disruption of a specific component of the immune system will be associated with other unique opportunistic infections. The risk of multiple simultaneous neurological infections in the immunosuppressed host must always be considered, particularly with a failure to respond to a therapeuticregimen. With respect to appropriate and effective therapy, diagnostic accuracy assumes primacy, but occasionally broad spectrum therapy is necessitated. For a number of opportunistic infectious disorders, particularly some viral and fungal diseases, antimicrobial therapy remains inadequate.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)241-255
Number of pages15
JournalCurrent Treatment Options in Neurology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Acyclovir
  • Amphotericin B
  • Ampicillin
  • Brain abscess
  • Famciclovir
  • Fluconazole
  • Fungal infections
  • Ganciclovir
  • Herpes simplex virus
  • JC virus
  • Listeria
  • Meningitis
  • Progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy
  • Valacyclovir
  • Vancomycin
  • Varicella zoster virus
  • Voriconazole

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology


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