Rheumatoid meningitis and infection in absence of rheumatoid arthritis history: review of 31 cases

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Clinical Rheumatology


A 62-year-old healthy male presents with leg weakness and fever. Imaging revealed leptomeningeal enhancement (LE). After cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) cultures were negative, he was discharged with a diagnosis of aseptic meningitis, but was readmitted due to worsening symptoms. Brain biopsy suggested rheumatoid leptomeningitis associated with elevated serum rheumatoid factor (RF) and anti-cyclic citrullinated peptide antibodies (ACPA). Following discharge, the New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH) reported a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) on CSF and brain DNA consistent with Naegleria fowleri (NF). After dramatic improvement on steroids, the patient declined antimicrobial treatment. Upon prednisone taper, symptoms recurred which responded to rituximab (RTX). This case highlights a possible association between rheumatoid leptomeningitis (RM) onset and infection, in a patient without a history of rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Our goal is to assess whether this association is present in 69 RM cases reported since 2000. We also describe diagnosis and treatment of 31 new cases (January 2017 to March 2020). We did not identify evidence of active/latent infection in patients with RM and previous RA; however, patients without RA history appeared to have a significantly higher rate. This finding could demonstrate the necessity of evaluating for infection in de novo RM cases without antecedent RA history. We also describe characteristic clinical patterns for each group. More studies are needed to corroborate these results and expand into a possible distinct natural history of RM in each group, which might have an impact upon the clinical outcome.

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