Indian Journal of Radiology Indian Journal of Radiology  

   Login   | Users online: 407

Home Bookmark this page Print this page Email this page Small font sizeDefault font size Increase font size     


 Table of Contents    
Year : 2015  |  Volume : 25  |  Issue : 4  |  Page : 459-463
Primary spinal primitive neuroectodermal tumor on MR imaging

Department of Radiodiagnosis, MP Shah Government Medical College, Jamnagar, Gujarat, India

Click here for correspondence address and email

Date of Web Publication12-Nov-2015


Neoplasms in the region of filum terminale are not uncommon. Myxopapillary ependymoma is the commonest tumor at this location. The differentials reported for this entity are nerve sheath tumor, meningioma, paraganglioma, intradural metastases, lymphoma, other varieties of ependymoma, subependymoma, astrocytoma, ganglioglioma, hemangioblastoma, and primitive neuroectodermal tumor (PNET). PNET may very rarely present as an intradural thoracolumbar mass. We present pre- and post-therapy magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) features of a patient with proven primary spinal primitive neuroectodermal tumor (PSPNET) of peripheral subtype.

Keywords: CD99; myxopapillary ependymoma; primary spinal primitive neuroectodermal tumor; primitive neuroectodermal tumor; spinal

How to cite this article:
Thoriya PJ, Watal P, Bahri NU, Rathod K. Primary spinal primitive neuroectodermal tumor on MR imaging. Indian J Radiol Imaging 2015;25:459-63

How to cite this URL:
Thoriya PJ, Watal P, Bahri NU, Rathod K. Primary spinal primitive neuroectodermal tumor on MR imaging. Indian J Radiol Imaging [serial online] 2015 [cited 2020 Jul 7];25:459-63. Available from:

   Introduction Top

Primary spinal primitive neuroectodermal tumor (PSPNET) is diagnosed when one or more histopathologically proven primitive neuroectodermal tumor (PNET) lesions are present in the spinal axis, in the absence of a lesion in the brain, since most cases are secondary to subarachnoid seeding from primary cranial PNET. Therefore, concurrent brain imaging is a must (to rule out the possibility of metastasis from a primary PNET) before arriving at the diagnosis of PSPNET. Histopathological findings and immunohistochemical analysis of the spinal lesion are essential for confirmation of the diagnosis.[1],[2],[3]

PNET is used to describe cerebellar medulloblastoma and other neoplasms located at non-cerebellar sites in the central nervous system (CNS), sharing same histological features, including primary cerebral neuroblastoma, pineoblastoma, ependymoblastoma, medulloepithelioma, and primary spinal PNET.[2],[3]

   Case Report Top

A 31-year-old female patient presented with a gradually progressive low backache and weakness of lower limbs for 4 weeks. Bowel and bladder functions were intact. There was no history of recent fever, cough, or vaccination. Focused neurological assessment revealed hyporeflexia with reduced muscle power and tone affecting bilateral lower limbs. Babinski sign was negative bilaterally. No focal tenderness was elicited in lumbar spinal vertebrae.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) [Siemens, Magnetom Essenza, Erlangen, Germany] revealed an extramedullary intradural lesion in the region of filum terminale filling the lumbar spinal canal and replacing most of the normally visualized cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) signal intensity. The conus medullaris and cauda equina were not distinctly visualized possibly due to encasement. The lesion appeared sharply defined from the surrounding CSF and demonstrated an extensive longitudinal span (L2-L3 disc level to lower border of S1 vertebral body). The lesion appeared heterogeneously hyperintense on T2-weighted (T2W) fast spin echo (FSE) and short tau inversion recovery (STIR) images and isointense on T1-weighted (T1W) spin echo (SE) images (to normal lumbar spinal cord). No evidence of intratumoral hemorrhage, syrinx formation, or calcification was noted [Figure 1]A, [Figure 1]B, [Figure 1]C. Few tiny, well-defined, randomly distributed foci were noted predominantly in the superior and inferior parts of the lesion which appeared isointense on T1W and hyperintense on T2W and STIR images (compared to rest of the lesion) indicating cystic changes [Figure 1]A and C]. There was no spinal canal or neural foramina expansion, cortical bone erosion, or scalloping of the posterior margins of the vertebral bodies [Figure 1]A, [Figure 1]B, [Figure 1]C.
Figure 1 (A-C): MRI of lumbosacral spine - sagittal section STIR (A), T1 weighted image (B) and, T2 weighted (C) image (WI). 31 year-old female with PSPNET of filum terminale. Well defined lesion (thick white arrow) in the region of filum terminale in the spinal canal appearing hyperintense on T2-WI FSE and STIR images and isointense on T1-weighted SE images. No evident intratumoral hemorrhage, calcification [A, B, C] and few randomly distributed small cystic areas (thin white arrow in A and C).

Click here to view

On post-contrast T1 fat-saturated (FS) images, the entire lesion demonstrated significant contrast enhancement [Figure 2]A and [Figure 2]B. There was no other enhancing focal soft tissue or bony lesion in the spinal axis [Figure 2]C and [Figure 2]D. The lesion showed peripheral rim enhancement of previously noted cystic focus [Figure 2]B. On the basis of MRI imaging, a differential diagnosis of a typical filum terminale myxopapillary ependymoma (most likely) or nerve sheath tumor was suggested.
Figure 2 (A-D): Sagittal MRI of lumbosacral spine –pre contrast FS T1 (A), postcontrast FS T1 (B); postcontrast FS T1 cervical (C) and thoracolumbar region (D) images. 31 year-old female with PSPNET of filum terminale. The lesion demonstrates significant contrast enhancement (thick white arrow). No other focal enhancing lesion noted in the spinal axis. Peripheral rim enhancement of previously noted cystic focus in the lesion can be noted (thin white arrow in B), when compared to pre contrast T1 FS image (A)

Click here to view

The patient underwent decompression laminectomy of lumbar vertebrae with gross excision of the lesion preserving the vital structures. Histopathological examination (HPE) using hematoxylin and eosin (H and E) stain (at original magnification, ×10 and original magnification, ×40) showed [Figure 3]A and [Figure 3]C malignant round blue cells pointing to primitive neural ectodermal origin of the tumor. Immunohistochemical staining revealed diffuse positivity for vimentin [Figure 3]D which is a generalized soft tissue immunological marker found in a large variety of soft tissue tumors. The strong and diffuse immunoreactivity for CD99 [Figure 3]B confirmed the lesion as PNET of peripheral subtype.
Figure 3 (A-D): Microscopic pathology (A and C) and Immunohistochemical staining (B and D). 31 year-old female with PSPNET of filum terminale. Histopathological examination using (H and E) stain (original magnification, ×10) and (original magnification, ×40) showed a sheet of uniform round cells suggesting a round cell tumor (A and C). Immunohistochemical staining revealed diffusely positive immunoreactivity for vimentin (D) and CD99 (B) markers

Click here to view

Follow-up MRI imaging (8 months later) after initiation of chemotherapy showed an ill-defined lesion appearing hyperintense on T2WI and hypointense on T1WI [Figure 4]A, [Figure 4]B, [Figure 4]C with significant post-contrast enhancement at the site of primary lesion [Figures 4]D and [Figure 5]. The perivertebral soft tissue in the lumbar region appeared edematous with absence of posterior segment of the lumbar vertebrae (postoperative) and previously visualized CSF signal intensity on the posterior aspect of the lesion [Figure 4]A, [Figure 4]B, [Figure 4]C. Multiple small, well-defined, round-to-oval lesions were noted involving the intradural extramedullary space (suggested by absence of cord expansion and presence of focal expansion of the CSF signal referred to as CSF capping at the lesion-CSF interface on either side of the lesions) in the cervical [Figure 6]A and thoracic regions [Figure 6]B, [Figure 6]D and [Figure 6]E of the spinal canal. These lesions were hyperintense on T2WI and isointense on T1WI (to the spinal cord) and appeared to compress the cord at the thoracic level with resultant parenchymal cord signal intensity [Figure 6]B. On brain imaging, no focal lesion was noted on T2WI and T1WI. On post-contrast T1 FS images, all the lesions in the cervical and thoracic spinal canal showed intense homogenous enhancement [Figure 6]C and [Figure 6]F. In view of primary pathological diagnosis of PNET, imaging findings indicated development of multiple intradural metastases in cervical and thoracic regions.
Figure 4 (A-D): MRI of lumbosacral spine - sagittal section STIR (A) T1 WI (B) T2 WI (C) and post contrast FS sagittal T1 WI (D) [post-operative status-8 months after first imaging]. 31-year-old female with PSPNET of filum terminale. Ill defined heterogenous lesion noted in lumbosacral spinal canal at the site of primary lesion [thick white arrow] (A, B, C). Postcontrast scan demonstrated significant enhancement of the spinal canal lesion (D) Perivertebral soft tissue in the lumbosacral region showed post operative changes

Click here to view
Figure 5: MRI of lumbosacral spine - Axial post contrast FS T1WI [post-operative status-8 months after first imaging]. 31 year-old female with PSPNET of filum terminale. Ill-defined intensely enhancing residual lesion noted at the site of primary lesion (thick white arrow)

Click here to view
Figure 6 (A-F): MRI - sagittal T2 cervical (A) sagittal T2 thoracic (B) post contrast FS sagittal T1 thoracic (C) axial T2 (D and E) and post contrast FS sagittal T1 cervical (F) [post-operative status-8 months after first imaging]. 31-year-old female with PSPNET of filum terminale. Intensely enhancing multiple intradural metastases noted in the cervical (thick white arrow) and thoracic (thin white arrows) regions of the spinal canal compressing the cord at the thoracic level

Click here to view

The second follow-up MRI study (12 months after the first scan) findings appeared similar to the previous scan with no significant interval changes at the site of primary lesion; however, the multiple intradural metastases in thoracic region appeared to progress with resultant marked compression of the cord at multiple levels [Figure 7]B,[Figure 7]C,[Figure 7]D,[Figure 7]E. This was in contrast to the metastatic lesion in the cervical region which appeared to regress (indistinct on plain images, but visualized on postcontrast images) [Figure 7]A and [Figure 7]F. Brain imaging revealed no focal enhancing lesion on postcontrast T1W FS images.
Figure 7 (A-F): Magnetic resonance imaging of cervico-thoracic spine - sagittal T2 cervical (A) sagittal T2 thoracic (B) post contrast FS sagittal T1 thoracic (C) axial T2 (D and E) and postcontrast FS sagittal T1 cervical (F) [Second follow up study-12 months after first imaging] 31 year-old female with PSPNET of filum terminale. Multiple intradural metastases in thoracic region (thin white arrow) appeared to progress (compared to Figure 6), in contrast to the regressing metastatic lesion in cervical region (thick white arrow)

Click here to view

On the most recent follow up visit, patient did not show significant clinical improvement.

   Discussion Top

PSPNET is typically found in young adult males in the age group of 20-30 years. PSPNETs are aggressive lesions characterized by rapid growth, short duration of symptoms, inadequate or no response to chemoradiotherapy, and recurrence of the tumor in most patients. Presence of cranial symptoms in a known case of PSPNET indicates development of intracranial metastases.[4]

PNET histologically appears as predominantly undifferentiated small, blue, round cell tumor with hyperchromatic nuclei, scanty cytoplasm, and frequent mitotic figures. On immunohistochemistry, variable positivity may be noted depending on differentiation (neuronal, glial, or myogenic). The tumor usually presents with nonspecific symptoms like paraparesis, paresthesias, gait disturbance, and low back pain.[5],[6]

PSPNET is a rare neoplasm with less than hundred confirmed cases in adults reported till date. The incidence in the pediatric age group appears to be even lower. PNETs are classified into central type (cPNET) and peripheral type (pPNET) based on their origin. cPNET frequently spreads via the CSF, but very rarely metastasizes outside CNS, and pPNET metastasizes to distant sites like bone, lung, lymph nodes, and liver. Immunohistochemistry can distinguish these subtypes and is recommended in all suspected cases.[7],[8],[9]

All PNETs are divided based on their embryological origin (not anatomical location) into those with CNS origin (cPNET) and those arising from outside the CNS (pPNET). This implies that lesions anatomically outside the CNS may be of CNS origin on immunohistochemical analysis and vice versa. Our case report is a demonstration of this principle since the lesion was intradural in location on imaging but was actually a peripheral subtype lesion.

Review of previous cases reported in literature suggests that PSPNET may arise from all levels of the spine and can be intramedullary, intradural-extramedullary (most common site being cauda equina), or extradural. Review of previous cases suggests intradural-extramedullary and intramedullary location to be almost equal in frequency.[10] The tumor is most frequently located at lower spinal levels, in lumbar and lumbosacral regions.[4],[5],[11]

MR imaging features of PSPNET are also usually nonspecific, with most of them being hyperintense on T2WI and iso- to-hypointense on T1WI, with heterogeneous enhancement on postcontrast sequences. Intratumoral hemorrhage is highly uncommon. According to Duan et al., although imaging findings are not specific, the diagnosis could be suggested when MR imaging depicts intradural, extramedullary, or extradural large, well-circumscribed mass which extends out from intervertebral foramen and invades paraspinal soft tissues or vertebral bones in a young patient.[12] However, their conclusion was based on a very small sample size. On positron emission tomography (PET) with 18F-fluoro-2-deoxy-glucose (FDG), it appears as a hypermetabolic focus. FDG/PET appears to be an effective imaging modality for the evaluation of suspected tumor recurrence.[11],[13],[14]

pPNET strongly expresses glycoprotein CD99, encoded by the microneme protein 2 (MIC2) gene and shows reciprocal translocation between chromosomes 11 and 22 showing the specific chimeric gene of EWSFLI1. In contrast, all central PNETs are negative for MIC2 and EWS–FLI1. This distinction is critical because of differences in specific chemotherapeutic regimen, radiation dose, and its extent.[15],[16],[17]

Myxopapillary ependymoma along with other less common ependymoma subtypes constitute 90% of primary tumors in the filum terminale region. The mean age at presentation is 28 years (average 15 years before intramedullary ependymomas). Myxopapillary ependymoma is histologically characterized by abundant fibrous connective tissue stroma showing mucinous degeneration. Cellular areas often display rosettes and pseudorosettes intermixed with papillary regions containing a vascular core.[18],[19]

On imaging, myxopapillary ependymomas present as masses of the filum terminale, but may also incorporate the conus medullaris (in contrast to cervico-thoracic cord ependymomas which are intramedullary). These are slowly growing neoplasms that frequently become large (average tumor spans four vertebral levels). The MR imaging features are nonspecific with most being hyperintense on T2WI and hypo- to-isointense on T1WI (relative to the spinal cord). Hyperintense signal relative to the spinal cord on unenhanced T1WI may be due to proteinaceous mucoid matrix of myxopapillary ependymomas (distinguishing them from other ependymoma subtypes, which are always hypo- or isointense on T1WI). Lesions of mixed signal intensity are seen if intralesional cyst formation, tumor necrosis, or hemorrhage has occurred. Frequently, exophytic growth pattern may cause expansion of the spinal canal and neural foramina with scalloping of the posterior vertebral body margins and pedicles. Calcification is extremely unusual in spinal ependymoma (in contrast to ependymomas of the brain). Occasionally, myxopapillary ependymomas may show superficial siderosis caused by the deposition of hemosiderin on the cord surface due to repeated episodes of hemorrhage from the tumor, appearing as a rim of hypointensity on the surface of the spinal cord, best seen on T2W gradient-echo MR images. Most ependymomas enhance intensely after administration of contrast material. Enhancement is usually homogeneous, but may be heterogeneous when hemorrhage or necrosis is present. Contrast-enhanced imaging is useful in differentiating the tumor from the spinal cord, defining intratumoral cysts, and identifying intradural metastases.[18],[19],[20]

The common differential reported for a myxopapillary ependymoma in the region of filum terminale includes intradural extramedullary neoplasms such as nerve sheath tumors (small lesions may be difficult to distinguish on imaging alone; large lesions show foraminal widening), meningiomas (uncommon site, uniformly isointense on T1WI and T2WI, no bone erosion), paraganglioma (well-encapsulated mass, isointense on T1WI and iso- to-hyperintense on T2WI, frequently heterogeneous signal intensity due to hemorrhagic areas, intense enhancement, serpentine enhancing structures adjacent to the mass in large lesions), intradural metastases, and lymphoma (uniform signal intensity and enhancement, nodularity of the nerve roots, aggressive bony lesions without bone remodeling). Other uncommon lesions include other ependymoma subtypes, subependymoma, astrocytoma, ganglioglioma, and hemangioblastoma. Rare conditions that may present as intradural thoracolumbar masses include primitive neuroectodermal tumor, lipoma, dermoid cyst, cholesteatoma, and neurenteric cyst.[18],[19],[20]

   Conclusion Top

Primary spinal PNET is an extremely rare neoplasm. On imaging, it usually presents in the lumbosacral region as an aggressive lesion showing intralesional hemorrhage, spinal canal expansion, bone erosion, or scalloping of the vertebral body margins, however, absence of these features do not rule out the diagnosis. Also, PNET of spinal axis may demonstrate cystic changes on imaging mimicking commoner neoplasms at this location.

   References Top

Koeller KK, Rosenblum RS, Morrison AL. Neoplasms of the spinal cord and filum terminale: Radiologic-pathologic correlation. Radiographics 2000;20:1721-49.  Back to cited text no. 1
Papadatos D, Albrecht S, Mohr G, del Carpio-O'Donovan R. Exophytic primitive neuroectodermal tumor of the spinal cord. AJNR Am J Neuroradiol 1998;19:787-9.  Back to cited text no. 2
Li M, PanS, Cheng C. MRI of primary spinal epidural primitive neuroectodermal tumor: A case report. Chin J Radiol 2008;33:91-5.  Back to cited text no. 3
Jingyu C, Jinning S, Hui M, Hua F. Intraspinal primitive neuroectodermal tumors: Report of four cases and review of the literature. Neurol India 2009;57:661-8.  Back to cited text no. 4
[PUBMED]  Medknow Journal  
Shimosawa H, Matsumoto M, Yabe H, Mukai M, Toyama Y, Morioka H. Primary primitive neuroectodermal tumor of the conus medullaris in an elderly patient: A case report and review of the literature. Case Rep Oncol 2011;4:267-74.  Back to cited text no. 5
Cai C, Zhang Q, Shen C, Hu X. Primary intraspinal primitive neuroectodermal tumor: A case report and review of literature. J Pediatr Neurosci 2008;3:154-6.  Back to cited text no. 6
  Medknow Journal  
Gurkanlar D, Korkmaz E, Gurler IE, Gokhan G, Kazan S. Multilevel primary intraspinal PNETs in an infant associated with hydrocephalus. Turk Neurosurg 2010;20:82-5.  Back to cited text no. 7
Kampman WA, Kros JM, De Jong TH, Lequin MH. Primitive neuroectodermal tumours (PNETs) located in the spinal canal; the relevance of classification as central or peripheral PNET: Case report of a primary spinal PNET occurrence with a critical literature review. J Neurooncol 2006;77:65-72.  Back to cited text no. 8
Kumar R, Reddy SJ, Wani AA, Pal L. Primary spinal primitive neuroectodermal tumor: Case series and review of the literature. Pediatr Neurosurg 2007;43:1-6.  Back to cited text no. 9
Ellis JA, Rothrock RJ, Moise G, McCormick PC 2nd, Tanji K, Canoll P, et al. Primitive neuroectodermal tumors of the spine: A comprehensive review with illustrative clinical cases. Neurosurg Focus 2011;30:E1.  Back to cited text no. 10
Virani MJ, Jain S. Primary intraspinal primitive neuroectodermal tumor (PNET): A rare occurrence. Neurol India 2002;50:75-80.  Back to cited text no. 11
[PUBMED]  Medknow Journal  
Duan XH, Ban XH, Liu B, Zhong XM, Guo RM, Zhang F, et al. Intraspinal primitive neuroectodermal tumor: Imaging findings in six cases. Eur J Radiol 2011;80:426-31.  Back to cited text no. 12
Harbhajanka A, Jain M, Kapoor. Primary spinal intramedullary primitive neuroectodermal tumor. J Pediatr Neurosci 2012;7:67-9.  Back to cited text no. 13
[PUBMED]  Medknow Journal  
Ghanta RK, Koti K, Ghanta VS, Teegala R. Intracranial metastasis from primary spinal primitive neuroectodermal tumor. Asian J Neurosurg 2013;8:42-7.  Back to cited text no. 14
[PUBMED]  Medknow Journal  
Deme S, Ang LC, Skaf G, Rowed DW. Primary intramedullary primitive neuroectodermal tumor of the spinal cord: Case report and review of the literature. Neurosurgery 1997;41:1417-20.  Back to cited text no. 15
Ishii N, Hiraga H, Sawamura Y, Shinohe Y, Nagashima K. Alternative EWS-FLI1 fusion gene and MIC2 expression in peripheral and central primitive neuroectodermal tumors. Neuropathology 2001;21:40-4.  Back to cited text no. 16
Lim YK, Ku CW, Teo GC, Lim SL, Tee CS. Central primary primitive neuroectodermal tumor (cPNET) arising from an ovarian mature cystic teratoma in pregnancy: A case report and review of medical literature. Gynecol Oncol Case Rep 2013;4:56-9.  Back to cited text no. 17
Wippold FJ 2nd, Smirniotopoulos JG, Moran CJ, Suojanen JN, Vollmer DG. MR imaging of myxopapillary ependymoma: Findings and value to determine extent of tumor and its relation to intraspinal structures. AJR Am J Roentgenol 1995;165:1263-7.  Back to cited text no. 18
Friedman DP, Hollander MD. Neuroradiology case of the day. Myxopapillary ependymoma of the conus medullaris or filum terminale resulting in superficial siderosis and dissemination of tumor along CSF pathways. Radiographics 1998;18:794-8.  Back to cited text no. 19
Shors SM, Jones TA, Jhaveri MD, Huckman MS. Best cases from the AFIP: Myxopapillary ependymoma of the sacrum. Radiographics 2006;26(Suppl 1):S111-6.  Back to cited text no. 20

Correspondence Address:
Prashant J Thoriya
Department of Radiodiagnosis, MP Shah Government Medical College and Guru Govind Singh General Hospital, Jamnagar - 361 008, Gujarat,
Login to access the Email id

Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/0971-3026.169451

Rights and Permissions


  [Figure 1], [Figure 2], [Figure 3], [Figure 4], [Figure 5], [Figure 6], [Figure 7]


   Similar in PUBMED
   Search Pubmed for
   Search in Google Scholar for
 Related articles
    Email Alert *
    Add to My List *
* Registration required (free)  

   Case Report
    Article Figures

 Article Access Statistics
    PDF Downloaded286    
    Comments [Add]    

Recommend this journal