Granulomatous Amoebic Encephalitis

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a) Photo of brain section with red granules in the center. b) close-up of granules.
(a) Brain tissue from a patient who died of granulomatous amebic encephalitis (GAE) caused by Balamuthia mandrillaris. (b) A close-up of the necrosis in the center of the brain section. (credit a, b: modifications of work by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

OpenStax Microbiology

Acanthamoeba and Balamuthia species are free-living amoebae found in many bodies of fresh water. Human infections by these amoebae are rare. However, they can cause amoebic keratitis in contact lens wearers, disseminated infections in immunocompromised patients, and granulomatous amoebic encephalitis (GAE) in severe cases. Compared to PAM, GAE tend to be subacute infections. The microbe is thought to enter through either the nasal sinuses or breaks in the skin. It is disseminated hematogenously and can invade the CNS. There, the infections lead to inflammation, formation of lesions, and development of typical neurological symptoms of encephalitis. GAE is nearly always fatal.

GAE is often not diagnosed until late in the infection. Lesions caused by the infection can be detected using CT or MRI. The live amoebae can be directly detected in CSF or tissue biopsies. Serological tests are available but generally are not necessary to make a correct diagnosis, since the presence of the organism in CSF is definitive. Some antifungal drugs, like fluconazole, have been used to treat acanthamoebal infections. In addition, a combination of miltefosine and voriconazole (an inhibitor of ergosterol biosynthesis) has recently been used to successfully treat GAE. Even with treatment, however, the mortality rate for patients with these infections is high.


Parker, N., Schneegurt, M., Thi Tu, A.-H., Forster, B. M., & Lister, P. (n.d.). Microbiology. Houston, Texas: OpenStax. Access for free at: