Skip to
  1. Homepage
  2. Rare diseases
  3. Search
Simple search

Simple search

(*) mandatory field


Other search option(s)

Subacute sclerosing leukoencephalitis

Synonym(s) Dawson's encephalitis
Subacute inclusion body encephalitis
Subacute sclerosing panencephalitis
Van Bogaert disease
Van Bogaert encephalitis
Prevalence <1 / 1 000 000
Inheritance Not applicable
Age of onset All ages
  • A81.1
MeSH -
MedDRA -


Disease definition

Subacute sclerosing panencephalitis (SSPE) is a chronic progressive encephalitis that develops a few years after measles infection and presents with a demyelination of the cerebral cortex.


Due to the measles immunization, nowadays cases of SSPE are very rare. In the United States, less than 10 cases/year are reported. However, in some countries like India, over 20 cases/per million people/per year are reported. Males are more often affected than females (3:1).

Clinical description

SSPE occurs primarily in children and young adults, approximately 2-8 years after the initial infection. Patients present with a history of measles infection (though the person seems to have fully recovered from the illness). Motor regression, cognition decline and seizures (focal, generalized tonic-clonic or myoclonic) are the major clinical manifestations. The electroencephalographic (EEG) pattern is characterized by periodic complexes that are disease-specific (generalized bisynchronous and symmetrical slow waves of high amplitude and a long repetition interval). Myoclonus, ataxia, autonomic dysfunction and dementia gradually develop. Stupor and coma precede the death. Histopathological findings in brain biopsy or autopsy include perivascular cuffing, eosinophilic cytoplasmic inclusions, neurophagia, and fibrous gliosis.


SSPE is caused by a mutant measles virus that provokes persistent brain inflammation (swelling and irritation).

Diagnostic methods

Diagnosis is based on a detailed history, clinical examination, typical EEG and presence of antimeasles antibodies in the cerebrospinal fluid. Computing tomography or magnetic resonance imaging are used to detect the brain lesions and help the differential diagnosis.

Differential diagnosis

A wide variety of neurological conditions should be considered in the differential diagnosis of SSPE: Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease, anoxic encephalopathy, metabolic encephalopathy, hepatic failure, drug toxicity, thyrotoxicosis, progressive myoclonic epilepsy.

Management and treatment

At present, no curative therapy for SSPE is available. Immunization against measles is the only known prevention. Some patients that respond to antiviral drugs (ribavirin, amantadine) need to receive this treatment for the rest of their lives.


SSPE has a progressive course and results in premature death, usually within 1-4 years after disease onset.

Expert reviewer(s)

  • Pr Bertrand FONTAINE

(*) Required fields.

Attention: Only comments seeking to improve the quality and accuracy of information on the Orphanet website are accepted. For all other comments, please send your remarks via contact us. Only comments written in English can be processed.

Captcha image

Detailed information

Clinical practice guidelines
Get Acrobat Reader
The documents contained in this web site are presented for information purposes only. The material is in no way intended to replace professional medical care by a qualified specialist and should not be used as a basis for diagnosis or treatment.