Penetration of Vancomycin into the Cerebrospinal Fluid: A Systematic Review



Infectious disease and pharmacokinetic textbooks indicate that vancomycin has poor penetration into the central nervous system due to its hydrophilic nature and high molecular weight. Recent literature suggests that penetration of vancomycin into cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) is higher than previously reported; therefore, we conducted a systematic review to assess the penetration of vancomycin into CSF.


We searched the MEDLINE, EMBASE, and CENTRAL electronic databases for English-language human studies evaluating serum and CSF concentrations of intravenous vancomycin.


In 13 identified studies, the CSF-to-serum ratio of vancomycin varied from 0.00 to 0.81. CSF penetration ranged 0.06–0.81 in patients with meningitis, 0.05–0.17 in ventriculitis, 0.00–0.36 in other infections, and 0–0.13 in patients without infection. Despite variable CSF penetration, 83% of patients with meningitis and 100% of patients with ventriculitis achieved clinical cure. No factor predicted vancomycin CSF penetration.


Contrary to prior belief, studies included in our review did not show universally low penetration of vancomycin into CSF. CSF vancomycin levels were variable and did not predict clinical cure.

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Corresponding author

Correspondence to Jessica E. Beach.

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No sources of funding were used to assist in the preparation of this review.

Conflicts of interest

Jessica E. Beach, Jerrold Perrott, Ricky D. Turgeon, and Mary H.H. Ensom have no conflicts of interest to declare that are relevant to the content of this review.

Appendix 1

Appendix 1

See Table 2.

Table 2 Quality assessment of included trials using the ClinPK statement

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Beach, J.E., Perrott, J., Turgeon, R.D. et al. Penetration of Vancomycin into the Cerebrospinal Fluid: A Systematic Review. Clin Pharmacokinet 56, 1479–1490 (2017).

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