BACKGROUND: We sought to characterize the role of immunologic, virologic, and radiologic determinants of survival in patients with progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy (PML). METHODS: We recorded the clinical outcome of 60 patients with PML (73% HIV+) who were prospectively evaluated between 2000 and 2007 for the presence of JC virus (JCV)-specific CD8+ cytotoxic T-lymphocytes (CTL) in blood. RESULTS: Estimated probability of survival at 1 year was 52% for HIV+/PML and 58% for HIV-patients with PML. Patients with PML with detectable CTL within 3 months of diagnosis had a 1-year estimated survival of 73% compared to 46% for those without CTL (hazard ratio [HR] for death = 0.47, 95% confidence interval [CI] 0.13-1.75, p = 0.26). Patients with CTL response had an increased likelihood of having contrast enhancement of PML lesions and immune reconstitution inflammatory syndrome (odds ratio 3.7 and 7.8). Estimated 1-year survival was 48% in HIV+ patients with PML with CD4 count <200/μL at PML diagnosis compared to 67% in those with CD4 >200/μL (HR for death 1.41, 95% CI 0.27-7.38, p = 0.68). JCV DNA was detected in the urine of 48% and in the blood of 56% of patients with PML, but viruria and viremia were not associated with survival. CONCLUSIONS: The presence of JC virus (JCV)-specific cytotoxic T-lymphocytes (CTL) was associated with a trend toward longer survival in patients with progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy (PML), which was more pronounced than the impact of CD4 count in HIV+ patients with PML early after diagnosis. Despite the association of contrast enhancement and immune reconstitution inflammatory syndrome with JCV-specific CTL, these cannot be considered as surrogate markers for the prognostic value of the CTL. Strategies aiming at improving the cellular immune response may improve the course of PML.