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JOURNAL ARTICLE

The frequency of autoimmune N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor encephalitis surpasses that of individual viral etiologies in young individuals enrolled in the California Encephalitis Project

Mary S Gable, Heather Sheriff, Josep Dalmau, Drake H Tilley, Carol A Glaser
Clinical Infectious Diseases: An Official Publication of the Infectious Diseases Society of America 2012, 54 (7): 899-904
22281844

BACKGROUND: In 2007, the California Encephalitis Project (CEP), which was established to study the epidemiology of encephalitis, began identifying cases of anti-N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor (anti-NMDAR) encephalitis. Increasing numbers of anti-NMDAR encephalitis cases have been identified at the CEP, and this form rivals commonly known viral etiologies as a causal agent. We report here the relative frequency and differences among encephalitides caused by anti-NMDAR and viral etiologies within the CEP experience.

METHODS: Demographic, frequency, and clinical data from patients with anti-NMDAR encephalitis are compared with those with viral encephalitic agents: enterovirus, herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1), varicella-zoster virus (VZV), and West Nile virus (WNV). All examined cases presented to the CEP between September 2007 and February 2011 and are limited to individuals aged ≤30 years because of the predominance of anti-NMDAR encephalitis in this group. The diagnostic costs incurred in a single case are also included.

RESULTS: Anti-NMDAR encephalitis was identified >4 times as frequently as HSV-1, WNV, or VZV and was the leading entity identified in our cohort. We found that 65% of anti-NMDAR encephalitis occurred in patients aged ≤18 years. This disorder demonstrated a predilection, which was not observed with viral etiologies, for females (P < .01). Seizures, language dysfunction, psychosis, and electroencephalographic abnormalities were significantly more frequent in patients with anti-NMDAR encephalitis (P < .05), and autonomic instability occurred exclusively in this group.

DISCUSSION: Anti-NMDAR encephalitis rivals viral etiologies as a cause of encephalitis within the CEP cohort. This entity deserves a prominent place on the encephalitic differential diagnosis to avoid unnecessary diagnostic and treatment costs, and to permit a more timely treatment.

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