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Subacute sclerosing panencephalitis (SSPE) is a rare complication of measles virus infection. The disease is characterized by behavioural abnormalities, intellectual deterioration, motor weakness, and generalized myoclonic jerks progressing to coma and death in one to two years in 80% of the cases. The myoclonic jerks are associated with characteristic generalized slow periodic complexes on electroencephalography (EEG). The symptoms and signs of SSPE are frequently quite variable. The clinical course is equally variable and difficult to predict. The characteristic periodic myoclonus can rarely occur unilaterally particularly in the early stages of the disease. As well, the periodic EEG complexes have been reported unilaterally in up to 3% of cases.
A 12-year-old boy, who was seen at a later stage with atypical manifestation of myoclonic body jerks confined entirely unilaterally, combined with contralateral periodic EEG complexes. One could assume clinically that the more diseased hemisphere was responsible for generating the jerks. However, brain magnetic resonance imaging revealed asymmetric hemispheric changes suggesting that the less neurologically damaged hemisphere is responsible for generating the unilateral myoclonic jerks. This has led to the interpretation that the more severely damaged hemisphere has lost the neuronal connectivity required to generate these periodic myoclonic jerks.
Subacute sclerosing panencephalitis may have asymmetric hemispheric involvement, not only early, but also in the advanced stages of the disease, which can result in unilateral periodic myoclonic jerks.
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