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Neurotherapeutics. 2009 July; 6(3): 587–597.
PMCID: PMC4942275

Biology and treatment of primary central nervous system lymphoma


Primary central nervous system lymphoma (PCNSL) is a rare variant of extranodal non-Hodgkin lymphoma that is restricted in distribution to the brain, leptomeninges, spinal cord, and intraocular compartments. Although PCNSL shares overlapping features with systemic lymphoma, recent studies also reveal a unique pattern of gene and protein expression in PCNSL. These findings have yielded new insights into the pathophysiology of the disease, as well as the identification of novel prognostic biomarkers. Immune system compromise, such as is seen in acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), is the best established known risk factor for PCNSL. Like other lesions of the brain, meninges, and eye, the presenting symptoms associated with PCNSL typically include focal neurological deficits related to the site of disease or more global consequences of increased intracranial pressure. Diagnosis of PCNSL typically includes gadolinium-enhanced MRI and pathologic tissue analysis, as well as additional studies aimed at excluding concurrent systemic disease. PCNSL typically has a worse overall prognosis than systemic lymphoma. High-dose chemotherapy, particularly with methotrexate-based regimens, is the backbone of therapy for most patients, and chemotherapy is associated with much lower rates of treatment-related morbidity and mortality than whole-brain irradiation. Autologous stem cell transplantation is an emerging treatment modality, particularly in younger patients with relapsed disease, but high rates of treatment-related mortality are observed in older patients. Immunotherapy, including treatment with intrathecal rituximab, is another area of active research that may have promise in refractory or relapsed disease. Treatment options for intraocular lymphoma parallel those for PCNSL elsewhere in the brain: systemic chemotherapy, radiation, and local delivery of cytotoxic and immunologically active agents such as anti-CD20 antibody.

Key Words: Brain tumor treatment, gene expression, pathobiology, immunotherapy


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