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A brain abscess is a focal, suppurative infection within the brain parenchyma, typically surrounded by a vascularized capsule. The term cerebritis is often employed to describe a nonencapsulated brain abscess.


image A bacterial brain abscess is a relatively uncommon intracranial infection, with an incidence of ~0.3–1.3:100,000 persons per year. Predisposing conditions include otitis media and mastoiditis, paranasal sinusitis, pyogenic infections in the chest or other body sites, penetrating head trauma or neurosurgical procedures, and dental infections. In immunocompetent individuals the most important pathogens are Streptococcus spp. (anaerobic, aerobic, and viridans [40%]), Enterobacteriaceae (Proteus spp., E. coli sp., Klebsiella spp. [25%]), anaerobes (e.g., Bacteroides spp., Fusobacterium spp. [30%]), and staphylococci (10%). In immunocompromised hosts with underlying HIV infection, organ transplantation, cancer, or immunosuppressive therapy, most brain abscesses are caused by Nocardia spp., Toxoplasma gondii, Aspergillus spp., Candida spp., and C. neoformans. In Latin America and in immigrants from Latin America, the most common cause of brain abscess is Taenia solium (neurocysticercosis). In India and East Asia, mycobacterial infection (tuberculoma) remains a major cause of focal CNS mass lesions.


A brain abscess may develop (1) by direct spread from a contiguous cranial site of infection, such as paranasal sinusitis, otitis media, mastoiditis, or dental infection; (2) following head trauma or a neurosurgical procedure; or (3) as a result of hematogenous spread from a remote site of infection. In up to 25% of cases, no obvious primary source of infection is apparent (cryptogenic brain abscess).

Approximately one-third of brain abscesses are associated with otitis media and mastoiditis, often with an associated cholesteatoma. Otogenic abscesses occur predominantly in the temporal lobe (55–75%) and cerebellum (20–30%). In some series, up to 90% of cerebellar abscesses are otogenic. Common organisms include streptococci, Bacteroides spp., Pseudomonas spp., Haemophilus spp., and Enterobacteriaceae. Abscesses that develop as a result of direct spread of infection from the frontal, ethmoidal, or sphenoidal sinuses and those that occur due to dental infections are usually located in the frontal lobes. Approximately 10% of brain abscesses are associated with paranasal sinusitis, and this association is particularly strong in young males in their second and third decades of life. The most common pathogens in brain abscesses associated with paranasal sinusitis are streptococci (especially Streptococcus milleri), Haemophilus spp., Bacteroides spp., Pseudomonas spp., and Staphylococcus aureus. Dental infections are associated with ~2% of brain abscesses, although it is often suggested that many “cryptogenic” abscesses are in fact due to dental infections. The most common pathogens in this setting are streptococci, staphylococci, Bacteroides spp., and Fusobacterium spp.

Hematogenous abscesses account for ~25% of brain abscesses. Hematogenous abscesses are often multiple, and multiple abscesses often (50%) have a hematogenous origin. These abscesses show a predilection for the territory of the middle cerebral artery (i.e., posterior frontal ...

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