Central nervous system (CNS) nocardiosis is a rare infection that may affect both the brain and the spine in patients with immunodeficiency.
CNS nocardiosis has been reported to represent ~2% of all cerebral abscesses, and to be present in 15-50% of patients with systemic infection 2-3.
Symptoms may vary according to the type of presentation and its extension in the CNS: headache, nausea, vomiting, focal neurological deficit and seizures are reported as the most common 2-3.
Nocardia spp. are aerobic gram-positive bacilli which are ubiquitous saprophytic organisms 1-3. The infection is acquired primarily by inhalation of the bacillus from the environment, from where it can spread hematogenously to other organs and tissues 1-2. In the CNS the infection manifests as meningitis, granuloma with giant cells or cerebral abscesses 2.
Identification of Nocardia spp. in the clinical laboratory can be challenging: the organism may grow on cultures in intervals between 4 days to 2–4 weeks 1.
This infection has no specific features to aid in suggesting the diagnosis. It typically manifests as a parenchymal abscess in any part of the brain, though spinal cord abscesses and meningitis have also been described 1,2.
Treatment and prognosis
Medical and surgical opinions should be sought 4,5. Empiric antibiotic treatment consists of trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole plus either a carbapenem class antibiotic and/or amikacin 4, while surgical management includes craniotomy or aspiration of abscesses 4,5. Both craniotomy and aspiration have been found to be equally effective 5.
- 1. Kranick SM, Zerbe CS. Case report from the NIH Clinical Center: CNS nocardiosis. J. Neurovirol. 2013;19 (5): 505-7. doi:10.1007/s13365-013-0193-7 - Free text at pubmed - Pubmed citation
- 2. Zakaria A, Elwatidy S, Elgamal E. Nocardia brain abscess: severe CNS infection that needs aggressive management; case report. Acta Neurochir (Wien). 2009;150 (10): 1097-101. doi:10.1007/s00701-008-0026-2 - Pubmed citation
- 3. Chedid MB, Chedid MF, Porto NS et-al. Nocardial infections: report of 22 cases. Rev. Inst. Med. Trop. Sao Paulo. 2008;49 (4): 239-46. Pubmed citation
- 4. Ambrosioni J, Lew D, Garbino J. Nocardiosis: updated clinical review and experience at a tertiary center. Infection. 38 (2): 89-97. doi:10.1007/s15010-009-9193-9 - Pubmed
- 5. Lee GY, Daniel RT, Brophy BP, Reilly PL. Surgical treatment of nocardial brain abscesses. Neurosurgery. 51 (3): 668-71; discussion 671-2. Pubmed
Related Radiopaedia articles
Infections of the central nervous system
- classification by etiology
- eastern equine encephalitis
- enterovirus rhomboencephalitis
- flavivirus encephalitis
herpes virus family
- herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV-1) encephalitis
- herpes simplex virus 2 (HSV-2) encephalitis
- varicella zoster virus (VZV) encephalitis
- Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) encephalitis
- cytomegalovirus (CMV) encephalitis
- human herpesvirus 6 (HHV-6) encephalitis
- HIV CNS manifestations
- HTLV-1-associated myelopathy
- JC virus
- measles encephalitis
- Nipah virus (NiV) encephalitis
- rabies encephalitis
- CNS listeriosis (Listeria monocytogenes)
- CNS nocardiosis (Nocardia spp)
- CNS tuberculosis (Mycobacterium tuberculosis)
- Lyme disease (Borrelia burgdorferi)
- neurosyphilis (Treponema pallidum)
- Rocky Mountain spotted fever (Rickettsia rickettsii)
- cerebral amoebiasis
- cerebral malaria (Plasmodium falciparum)
- cerebral sparganosis (Spirometra mansonoides)
- neurocysticercosis (Taenia solium)
- neurohydatidosis (Echinococcus spp)
- neurotoxoplasmosis (Toxoplasma gondii)
- others or those with possible infectious etiologies
- classification by location
- classification by etiology