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Abstract

Formalin-fixed sections from the brains of 36 patients (30 alcoholic and 6 nonalcoholic) with autopsy-proven cirrhosis who died while in a hepatic coma were stained with hematoxylin and eosin, and examined for the presence of diencephalic, cerebellar, pontine, and basal ganglia lesions. Significant neuropathology was identified in 23 of 36 cases consisting of mammillary body and thalamic lesions characteristic of Wernicke encephalopathy (WE) (9 cases, all alcoholic patients) and cerebellar degeneration (20 cases, 17 alcoholic and 3 nonalcoholic patients). Clinical diagnosis of WE had been entertained during life in only 2 of these patients. All cases, alcoholic and nonalcoholic, manifested mild to severe Alzheimer's type II astrocytosis. No cases of central pontine myelinolysis nor acquired (non-Wilsonian) hepatocerebral degeneration were found. These findings show that the brains of a high proportion of cirrhotic patients with end-stage liver disease manifest concomitant unsuspected diencephalic and cerebellar pathology. The high incidence of WE underscores the need for early sustained treatment of alcoholic cirrhotic patients with vitamin B1. Evaluation of the neurological sequelae of liver transplantation, particularly of alcoholic patients with end-stage liver disease, may require a careful neurological and radiological assessment both before and after surgery.