What Is Melkersson-Rosenthal Syndrome?


In the realm of medical science, certain conditions stand out as enigmatic puzzles, challenging our understanding of the human body's intricacies. Among these rare and perplexing disorders is Melkersson-Rosenthal Syndrome (MRS). Named after neurologists Ernst Melkersson and Curt Rosenthal, this syndrome presents a unique constellation of symptoms that continue to intrigue medical professionals and researchers alike. 

Melkersson-Rosenthal Syndrome or MRS refers to an extremely rare neuro-mucocutaneous ailment with an uncertain origin. The age of its onset spans from early childhood to late adulthood, and its diagnosis primarily relies on clinically identifying a trio of symptoms, which encompass swelling of the face and mouth, recurring facial paralysis, and a tongue displaying fissures.

In this article, we delve into the depths of Melkersson-Rosenthal Syndrome, shedding light on its multifaceted nature by exploring its causes, diagnostic process, available treatments, and potential impact on patients' lives. 


Melkersson-Rosenthal syndrome (MRS) is a remarkably rare neurological disorder characterised by its profound influence on the facial nerves. This unique syndrome manifests a range of distressing symptoms, notably including recurrent facial swelling, the development of distinctive furrows or grooves on the tongue, and episodes of facial paralysis. Due to its rarity, the treatments, causes and means of prevention still remain unclear.

The Triad of Melkersson-Rosenthal Syndrome

At the heart of Melkersson-Rosenthal Syndrome lies a distinctive triad of symptoms that serves as its hallmark, setting it apart from other neurological disorders:1

  • Facial Paralysis: A central component of MRS, recurrent episodes of facial paralysis, often unilateral (one-sided) in nature, vary in intensity from subtle weakness to complete immobilization of facial muscles. This episodic nature differentiates it from other conditions like Bell's palsy
  • Granulomatous Cheilitis: Termed granulomatous cheilitis, facial swelling accompanies episodes of facial paralysis, notably affecting the lips and cheeks. This co-occurrence serves as a diagnostic clue for MRS
  • Fissured Tongue (Scrotal Tongue): Individuals afflicted by MRS may exhibit a distinctive tongue anomaly known as scrotal tongue, characterised by fissures and grooves. This unusual tongue appearance contributes to the clinical diagnosis of the syndrome

Other symptoms can include (via Cleveland Clinic):

  • Dizziness
  • Migraine
  • Tinnitus/hearing loss
  • Scarring from repeated flare-ups
  • Problems with swallowing
  • Vision issues

Manifestations and Diagnostic Challenges

While the triad of symptoms serves as a diagnostic anchor, Melkersson-Rosenthal Syndrome is not bound by a rigid framework.2 Variations in symptom presentation and frequency add layers of complexity to its diagnosis. Some individuals experience only one or two components of the triad, leading to potential misdiagnosis or delayed diagnoses.3 In such cases, the syndrome's rarity and lack of awareness among medical practitioners can further complicate accurate diagnosis. Conditions with similar symptoms include Sarcoidosis and Crohn’s disease, and MRS may foreshadow a future diagnosis of one or both of these conditions.5,6

Given its rarity and variable presentation, the syndrome often eludes initial recognition. A medical history, physical examination, and exclusion of other potential causes are vital steps in the diagnostic journey. 

Advanced diagnostic tools, including magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and histopathological  examination of affected tissues through biopsy, offer valuable insights.1,7 However, they are typically used to rule out other conditions rather than provide a definitive diagnosis.2,3

Often, cases of MRS may be referred to other medical specialists for further MRS confirmations. These include:

  • Allergists
  • Dermatologists
  • Gastroenterologists
  • Immunologists
  • Ophthalmologists

Potential causes

Despite decades of research, the underlying cause of Melkersson-Rosenthal Syndrome remains a puzzle with missing pieces. Several theories have been proposed:

  • Genetic Factors: Evidence suggests a genetic predisposition to MRS, observed to run in families. The trait is what is known as autosomal dominant, which means that the child of an affected parent has a 50% chance of inheriting the condition. However, specific genetic markers or mutations associated with the syndrome have yet to be definitively identified
  • Immunological Aberrations: The granulomatous inflammation characteristic of MRS points to potential immunological abnormalities. An overactive immune response, triggered by infections or other factors, might contribute to the syndrome's development4
  • Environmental Triggers: Proposed triggers for MRS include allergens or infections, but identifying a consistent trigger across cases has proven challenging

Treatment Strategies

While a cure for Melkersson-Rosenthal Syndrome remains elusive, treatment strategies aim to manage symptoms and enhance patients' quality of life during episodes:

  • Corticosteroids: Anti-inflammatory agents mitigate swelling and control inflammation during acute MRS episodes, reducing severity and duration
  • Immunosuppressants: In severe or refractory cases, these medications modulate the immune response to prevent recurrent episodes
  • Surgical Interventions: Facial nerve decompression or repair may be considered for persistent facial paralysis or significant functional impairment
  • Antibiotics
  • Antihistamines: Used to regulate inflammations resulting from MRS flares
  • Methotrexate: Used for rheumatoid arthritis, slows immune system activity and skin cell growth

Is MRS Permanent?

The clinical course of Melkersson-Rosenthal Syndrome varies widely, leading to differing outcomes for affected individuals. While some experience intermittent flare-ups that resolve over time, others face more frequent and intense episodes.  

In certain cases, the syndrome becomes chronic, resulting in enduring facial swelling. Although MRS can significantly impact quality of life, it does not appear to affect overall life expectancy.

As medical science advances, collaborative efforts between clinicians, researchers, and patients are crucial in unravelling the mysteries of Melkersson-Rosenthal Syndrome. Discovering genetic markers, understanding immune system dysregulation, and identifying consistent triggers could lead to targeted therapies and improved diagnostic accuracy.

Melkersson-Rosenthal Syndrome continues to challenge medical understanding. Its rarity, variable presentation, and complex origins defy simple categorization. As research progresses, ongoing studies hold the promise of unveiling the mechanisms behind this perplexing syndrome, offering hope and healing for those affected by its enigmatic manifestations.


Who Can Get Melkersson-Rosenthal Syndrome?

MRS can affect individuals of any age, with symptoms often appearing during teenage years.

How Common is Melkersson-Rosenthal Syndrome?

MRS is extremely rare, affecting only 0.08% of the population. Its underdiagnosis and similarity to other conditions contribute to this rarity.

Can Melkersson-Rosenthal Syndrome Be Prevented?

Currently, due to limited understanding, there are no prevention strategies for MRS.


Melkersson-Rosenthal Syndrome (MRS) is an uncommon and intriguing neurological disorder that affects the facial nerves, leading to a range of distinct symptoms. Characterised by recurrent facial swelling, tongue furrows resembling scrotal texture, and episodes of facial paralysis, MRS presents a unique triad of symptoms that sets it apart from other neurological conditions.

While the exact causes of MRS remain uncertain, genetic factors, immunological abnormalities, and environmental triggers have been proposed as potential contributors. Treatment strategies aim to manage symptoms and improve patients' quality of life during episodes, utilizing corticosteroids, immunosuppressants, surgical interventions, antibiotics, antihistamines, and methotrexate.

MRS follows a diverse course, ranging from intermittent flare-ups to chronic manifestations, which can significantly affect patients' quality of life. However, MRS does not appear to impact overall life expectancy.


  1. Cancian M, Giovannini S, Angelini A, et al. Melkersson-Rosenthal syndrome: a case report of a rare disease with overlapping features. Allergy Asthma Clin Immunol. 2019;15(1):1. doi:10.1186/s13223-018-0316-z Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30622569/
  2. Elias MK, Mateen FJ, Weiler CR. The Melkersson-Rosenthal syndrome: a retrospective study of biopsied cases. J Neurol. 2013;260:138-143. doi:10.1007/s00415-012-6603-6. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22836908/
  3. Ozgursoy OB, Karatayli Ozgursoy S, Tulunay O, Kemal O, Akyol A, et al. Melkersson-Rosenthal syndrome revisited as a misdiagnosed disease. Am J Otolaryngol. 2009;30:33-37. doi:10.1016/j.amjoto.2008.02.004 Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19027510/
  4. Rigamonti A, Boncoraglio G, Carriero MR, Bussone G. A case of Melkersson-Rosenthal syndrome with features suggesting immune etiology. Eur Neurol. 2004;51:42-43. doi:10.1159/000075085. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/14639028/
  5. Casper J, Mohammad-Khani S, Schmidt JJ, Kielstein JT, Lenarz T, Haller H, et al. Melkersson–Rosenthal syndrome in the context of sarcoidosis: a case report. J Med Case Rep [Internet]. 2021 [cited 2023 Nov 13]; 15:488. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8489098/.
  6. Worsaae N, Christensen KC, Bondesen S, Jarnum S. Melkersson-Rosenthal syndrome and Crohn’s disease. Br J Oral Surg. 1980; 18(3):254–8. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/6934822/
  7. Cfb G, Mms N, Gp F, Sv L. The histopathological spectrum of Melkersson-Rosenthal syndrome: Analysis of 47 cases. Journal of cutaneous pathology [Internet]. 2020 [cited 2023 Nov 13]; 47(11). Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32578236/.
This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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Tawan Munkongcharoen

Master of Science - MSc, Queen Mary University of London, UK

Tawan holds a degree in neuroscience and translational medicine, with a strong research background in neurophysiology and neurodegenerative diseases. She has gained valuable experience working in both clinical and laboratory environments. At present, Tawan is focused on advancing her career in the field of research.

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