Case Reports

Melkersson-Rosenthal Syndrome Successfully Treated With Adalimumab

Author and Disclosure Information

Melkersson-Rosenthal syndrome (MRS) is a rare syndrome of facial nerve palsy, facial edema, and lingua plicata that can be difficult to treat. We observed a patient with MRS of 4 years’ duration that was unsuccessfully treated with multiple therapies. After a variety of diagnoses were considered at outside institutions, including Bell palsy, we diagnosed the patient with MRS based on clinical presentation of the classic triad. Treatment with adalimumab, a tumor necrosis factor α (TNF-α) antibody, showed improvement and relapse-free progress. Further research is needed regarding the role of TNF-α inhibitors in managing this rare condition.

Practice Points

  • The classical triad of Melkersson-Rosenthal syndrome (MRS), which includes facial nerve palsy, facial edema, and lingua plicata, can present gradually over time and should therefore be kept in the differential of cheilitis.
  • Tumor necrosis factor α therapy may play a crucial role in rare granulomatous diseases, including MRS.



Melkersson-Rosenthal syndrome (MRS) is a rare condition comprised of unilateral peripheral facial nerve palsy, episodic or progressive facial edema, and lingua plicata (also known as fissured tongue). Melkersson-Rosenthal syndrome is a subtype of orofacial granulomatosis and often is mistaken for angioedema or pseudoangioedema due to the swelling of the lips and eyelids. We present a case of MRS that cleared in response to adalimumab therapy.

Case Report

A 69-year-old woman presented to our dermatology clinic with facial edema and a fissured tongue of 4 years’ duration. These symptoms had failed to improve with doxycycline, tacrolimus ointment 0.1%, and cortisone injections of the upper lip, as well as a balsam-free diet, fragrance-free skin products, and flavor-free toothpaste prescribed by multiple physicians over 4 years. Two weeks prior to the current presentation the patient developed left facial nerve palsy that was diagnosed by an outside physician as Bell palsy, and the patient completed a 7-day course of prednisone 1 day prior to presentation. The patient’s medical history was remarkable for type 2 diabetes mellitus controlled with metformin, hyperlipidemia controlled with ezetimibe-simvastatin, and psoriasis. She reported no family history of autoimmune or dermatologic disorders and denied any fever, unintentional weight loss, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea.

On physical examination, the patient had considerable perioral edema and erythema without warmth or tenderness (Figure 1A). The tongue was fissured with notable scalloping at the lateral margins (Figure 1B). There were no aphthous ulcers or lymphadenopathy, and the remainder of the neurologic examination was normal. The patient had erythematous plaques with scaling on the bilateral elbows. Cardiopulmonary, musculoskeletal, and abdominal examinations were otherwise normal.

Figure 1. Melkersson-Rosenthal syndrome with perioral edema (arrow)(A) and erythema as well as left facial nerve palsy. Lingua plicata also was noted (arrow)(B).

Laboratory data revealed an elevated white blood cell count of 17,500/µL (reference range, 4500–11,000/µL), an elevated absolute neutrophil count of 14,018/µL (reference range, 0–700/µL), and an absolute eosinophil count of 0/µL (reference range, 0–450/µL), with the rest of the complete blood cell count within reference range. A basic metabolic panel showed an elevated glucose level of 326 mg/dL (reference range, 70–110 mg/dL), consistent with diabetes and most likely exacerbated by the recent steroid course. A lipid panel was consistent with diagnosed hyperlipidemia (total cholesterol, 236 mg/dL [reference range, <200 mg/dL]; low-density lipoprotein, 134 mg/dL [reference range, 10–30 mg/dL]; triglycerides, 188 mg/dL [reference range, <160 mg/dL]). Hepatitis B and C tests were negative. A punch biopsy of the buccal and labial mucosa was taken, revealing a parakeratinized stratified squamous epithelium with an unusual pattern of surface keratinization with foci of intracellular and extracellular edema in the spinous layer. The underlying fibrous connective tissue was edematous with infiltrates of lymphocytes, mast cells, macrophages, and a few plasma cells. The pathology report listed the diagnosis as nonspecific “chronic mucositis,” with a list of differential diagnoses that included angioedema, hypersensitivity reaction, or other possible autoimmune disorders.

On consideration of these differential diagnoses, it was felt most likely to be MRS, which remains a primarily clinical diagnosis characterized by the triad of symptoms seen in this patient. Treatment of this condition emphasizes inflammation, and steroid therapy often is utilized, as it was in our patient. After the diagnosis of MRS was made, the patient received adalimumab 80 mg subcutaneously on day 1 and 40 mg on day 8 as a loading dose; she subsequently began a course of subcutaneous injections of adalimumab 40 mg once every other week for treatment of psoriasis with the goal of simultaneously treating the MRS. The symptoms did not completely resolve at this dose, so it was increased to 40 mg once weekly. The patient reported that the facial edema, lingua plicata, and facial nerve palsy resolved concomitantly over approximately 3 months with greater improvement at 5 months (Figure 2). The patient has had no relapses as of the last follow-up at 11 months.

Figure 2. At 5-month follow-up after treatment with adalimumab 40 mg once weekly, the patient demonstrated complete resolution of the facial nerve palsy and facial edema (A). The lingua plicata was greatly improved, though some partial scalloping of the tongue border remained (B).

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