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Bell's palsy and secondary syphilis CSF spirochetes detected by immunofluorescence.

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we cannot document the number of angiomas present. However, the pathological specimens and the
long clinical course are evidence against a neoplastic
or infectious cause. This patient's symptoms were
due to documented increased intracranial pressure.
Evidence for intracranial o r subarachnoid hemorrhage was not present, nor was communicating hydrocephalus likely because ventricular size o n CAT scan
was normal. Perhaps an abnormal blood-brain barrier
is associated with these lesions, resulting in multiple
areas of increased extracellular fluid and cerebral
edema and thus the pseudotumorlike presentation.
The association in this patient of multiple cryptic
vascular malformations of the nervous system and
increased intracranial pressure with normal ventricular size is unique. Without computerized tomographic evaluation, the lesions would have been
missed, In addition, the association of increased pressure with multiple foci of edema is atypical for patients with vascular malformations. T h e patient's beneficial response to the CSF shunting increases the
importance of recognizing this disease entity.
Bell's Palsy and
Secondary Syphilis:
CSF Spirochetes Detected
by Immunofluorescence
Larry E. Davis, MD, and Sally Sperry, MT (ASCP)
We are grateful to Dr William McCormick for his review of thc
pathology. We also wish to acknowledge the assistance of Drs
Kenneth Maravello, Bassett Kilgore, and Hal McCready with the
CAT scans, and the cooperation of Drs Dale Schulz, Michael Burt,
and David Josephson of Methodist Hospital, Indianapolis, IN.
HP, Subbiah B, Bosch EP: Neurologic aspects of
hereditary hemorrhagic telangiectasia. Arch Neurol 34: 101104, 1977
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3. Craig WM, Wagener HP, Kernohan J W Lindau-von Hipprl
report of four cases. Arch Neurol Psychiatry
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5 . McCormick WF: The pathology of vascular (arteriovenous)
malformation. J Neurosurg 24807-816, 1966
6. McCormick WF, Nofzinger JD: Cryptic vascular malformations of the central nervous system. J Neurosurg 249634375,
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Arch Neurol 36:514-529, 1936
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painful muscles and eosinophilia. Johns Hopkins Hosp Bull
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12. Russell DS, Rubinstein LJ: Pathology of Tumors of the Nervous System. Baltimore, Williams & Wilkins, 1971, p p 93-98
1. Adams
Although Bell's palsy is usually idiopathic, occasional
cases may have an identifiable infectious cause. When
facial paralysis results from syphilis, it usually develops during the tertiary meningovascular stage. We
report a 30-year-old man with secondary syphilis who
developed facial paralysis associated with acute
syphilitic meningitis. Spirochetes were identified in
the cerebrospinal fluid by immunofluorescence using
standard reagents from the fluorescent treponemal
antibody absorption (FTA-ABS) test. Patients with
Bell's palsy should be screened for syphilis with a
blood FTA-ABS test, and treatment with corticosteroids should be considered only after an infectious
cause has been excluded.
Davis LE, Sperry S: Bell's palsy and secondary
syphilis: CSF spirochetes detected
by immunofluorescence.
Ann Neurol4:378-380, 1978
Bell's palsy is usually a benign disorder without identifiable cause. Occasionally, however, the facial
paralysis has recognizable causes, including infections. Park and Watkins [8] found an infectious origin
in 6% of 500 cases. Tuberculous meningitis, leprosy,
varicella zoster, rubella, mumps, Epstein-Barr virus,
syphilis, and bacterial infections of the middle ear
have all been associated with facial paralysis [l]. Although meningovascular syphilis is recognized as a
cause of palsies of the cranial nerve, including the
facial nerve [6], secondary syphilis rarely leads to
Bell's palsy. Merritt and Moore [7] reviewed a large
series of patients with syphilis and identified only 2
with secondary syphilis who developed isolated facial
nerve palsy from acute syphilitic meningitis. This report describes another patient who developed Bell's
palsy during secondary syphilis. Spirochetes were
identified in the patient's cerebrospinal fluid by immunofluorescent study.
From the Departments of Neurology and Pathology, University of
New Mexico School of Medicine, and the Veterans Administration Hospital, Albuquerque, NM.
Accepted for publication Mar 22, 1978.
Address reprint requests to Dr Davis, Department of Neurology,
University of New Mexico School of Medicine, Albuquerque,
N M 87131.
0364-5134/78/0004-0415$01.00 @ 1978 by Larry E. Davis
A 30-year-old man developed a mild headache lasting several days, followed by acute right facial weakness. A physician noted right facial paresis and a maculopapular erythematous rash involving the trunk and extremities, including the palms. Bell's palsy was diagnosed, and the patient
was treated with 60 m g of prednisone per day for two
weeks. The rash disappeared but the facial weakness progressed. The headaches continued, and mild, high-pitched
tinnitus developed. Six weeks later the patient saw another
physician. Examination disclosed right peripheral facial
paralysis, diminished taste sensation o n the right side of the
tongue, anterior and posterior cervical lymphadenopathy,
and moderate patchy alopecia. Function of the other cranial
nerves was normal except for a bilateral high-tone hearing
loss, confirmed by audiometry. T h e remainder of the physical examination was normal. T h e patient gave no history of
a primary syphilitic lesion and said that one year previously
he had had a negative blood test for syphilis.
The CSF had an opening pressure of 170 m m H,O with 0
red blood cells, and 125 white cells per cubic millimeter
(80% lymphocytes); 53 m d d l glucose; 106 rngldl protein,
of which 22%) was gamma globulin; and sterile bacterial,
tuberculosis, and fungal cultures. The CSF Venereal Disease Research Laboratory (CSF-VDRL) test was reactive
when assayed undiluted, and the CSF fluorescent treponemal antibody absorption (CSF-FTA-ABS) test was 1
reactive. T h e serum rapid plasma reagin test was reactive at
1:128 dilution, and a fluorescent treponemal antibody absorption (FTA-ABS) test was strongly reactive. The patient
was treated with penicillin €or three weeks. After one
month, movement of the right face returned and the headaches, tinnitus, and adenopathy were gone. Examination of
the CSF after treatment showed 5 lymphocytes/mm3, 48
m d d l protein, a nonreactive VDRL test, and a borderlinereactive CSF-FTA-ABS test.
Special CSF Stadies
Two milliliters each of frozen CSF obtained at admission
and following treatment were thawed and centrifuged at
18,000 rpm for 30 minutes. Each pellet was smeared o n
two clean glass microscopic slides, air dried, and fixed in
acetone for 10 minutes. T h e reagents and methods of staining in this study were those used in the FTA-ABS test for
blood syphilis serology [ 1 I]. One slide prepared from each
CSF sample and a third prepared with FTA-ABS antigen
(Lederle Diagnostics, Pearl River, NY) were stained with
specific syphilis antiserum. O n e slide prepared from the
initial CSF sample and a second FTA-ABS antigen slide
were stained with FTA-ABS nonsyphilitic serum to serve
as controls.
I n the admission CSF sediment stained with FTAABS reactive serum, 15 complete spirochetes having
the size and configuration of Treponema pallidurn
were identified by dark-field microscopy. These
spirochetes also showed specific fluorescence when
examined under ultraviolet light (Figure). The intensity of the fluorescent staining was the same as for
the control FTA-ABS antigen stained with FTA-ABS
Fluorescent antibody staining of CSF Spirochete by FTA-ABS
reactice antireram ( x 1,000).
reactive serum. O n the admission CSF sediment slide
stained with FTA-ABS nonsyphilitic serum, no
fluorescent spirochetes or spirochete fragments were
identified. The FTA-ABS nonsyphilitic serum did
not stain the control FTA-ABS antigen. No
spirochetes were identified by dark-field or fluorescent microscopy in the posttreatment CSF sediment.
The diagnosis of secondary syphilis was based on typical signs and a reactive FTA-ABS test. Acute syphilitic meningitis was present, with spirochetes demonstrated in the CSF by immunofluorescence.
Spirochetes have only rarely been identified in the
CSF of patients with secondary or tertiary syphilis in
spite of the presumption that they are there 12, 31.
Since T . pallidum will currently grow only in animals,
routine bacterial cultures are sterile [9]. Identification of spirochetes from fresh specimens is difficult
under light-field microscopy and usually requires
dark-field examination [9]. However, CSF is seldom
examined by dark-field microscopy. Once T . pallidum has become nonmotile, identification becomes
even more difficult since cell debris may simulate a
spirochete. Immunofluorescent microscopy has been
used successfully to identify fixed, nonmotile T . pallidum spirochetes in smears made from primary
syphilitic skin lesions [ 5 ] . A similar approach was
used to identify the nonmotile spirochetes in the CSF
of this patient. Because the reagents used are from
the FTA-ABS test, the capability of searching for T .
pallidurn spirochetes in CSF or in lesions elsewhere
already exists in many hospital laboratories.
Although no fluorescent spirochetes were seen in
the admission CSF sediment stained with nonsyphilitic serum, some caution must be exercised in the
interpretation of that finding. Rabbits infected with
T . pallidurn have been shown to develop antibody
that will intrinsically coat its organisms, resulting in
Case Report: Davis and Sperry: Bell's Palsy and Syphilis 379
spirochetes that fluoresce when stained only with
fluorescein-conjugated antirabbit IgG [ 121. This may
also occur in man. T o best exclude the possibility of
intrinsic antibody coating, a portion of the sample
should also be stained with fluorescein conjugated
antihuman globulin alone.
Whether administration of corticosteroids contributed to worsening of the facial paresis in this patient remains speculative. Animals experimentally
infected with syphilis had greater numbers of
spirochetes and showed a more aggressive spread of
tbe disease when steroids were given [4, 101. Corticosteroids for the treatment of Bell's palsy should be
considered, if at all, only after infectious causes have
been excluded.
Supported by the Research Service of the Veterans Administration.
The authors thank Mrs B. Mitchell and Drs S. Johnson, D.
Seelinger, and K. Tung for their help with this study.
1. Brackman DE: Bell's palsy. Incidence, etiology, and results of
medical treatment. Otolaryngol Clin North Am ?:35?-368,
380 Annals of Neurology Vol 4 No 4 October 1978
2. Chesney AM, Kemp JE: Incidence of Spirochaeta pallida in
cerebrospinal fluid during early stage of syphilis. JAMA
83:1?25-1728, 1924
3. Collart P, Franceschini P, Poitevin M, e t al: Modified method
of filtering cerebrospinal fluid and aqueous humour for the
detection of treponemes. Br J Vener Dis 50:251-256, 1974
4. DeLameter ED, Saureno V, Urbach F: Studies on immunology of spirochetoses. 1 . Effect of cortisone o n spirochetes.
Am J Syph 36:127-139, 1952
5 . Edwards EA: Detecting Treponerna pallidurn in primary lesions
by the fluorescent antibody technique. Pub1 Health Rep
77:427-430, 1962
6 . Gilroy J, Meyer JS: Medical Neurology. SecoLd edition. New
York, Macmillan, 1975, pp 393-404
7 . Merritt HH, Moore M: Acute syphilitic meningitis. Medicine
14:119-183, 1935
8. Park H W , Watkins AL: Facial paralysis. Analysis of 500 cases.
Arch Phys Med 30:749-761, 1949
9. Smith DT: Treponema pallidurn and syphilis, in Joklik WK,
Smith DT (eds): Zinsser Microbiology. 15th edition. New
York, Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1972, pp 642-650
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1 1 . Venereal Disease Research Laboratory: Manual of Tests for
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Washington, DC, US Government Printing Office, 1969, pp
12. Wilkinson AE, Rayner CFA: Studies on the fluorescent
treponemal antibody (FTA) test. Br J Vener Dis 42%-14,
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detected, secondary, spirochetes, palsy, csf, immunofluorescence, belle, syphilis
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