Psychiatric autoimmune conditions in children and adolescents: Is catatonia a severity marker?

Vladimir Ferrafiat, Elise Riquin, Elena Freri, Tiziana Granata, Nardo Nardocci, François Medjkane, Claire Corfiotti, Alessandra Tozzo, Huges Pellerin, Xavier Benarous, Julien Haroche, Zahir Amoura, Philippe Duverger, Renaud Jardri, Priscille Gerardin, David Cohen, Angèle Consoli, Marie Raffin
Progress in Neuro-psychopharmacology & Biological Psychiatry 2020 June 30, : 110028

OBJECTIVES: Patients with autoimmune encephalitis (AE) are likely to exhibit an acute onset of severe psychiatric features, including psychosis and/or catatonia. Based on the high prevalence of catatonia in AE and our clinical experience, we hypothesized that catatonia might be a marker of severity requiring more aggressive treatment approaches.

METHODS: To reach a sufficient number of cases with brain-autoimmune conditions, we pooled two samples (N = 58): the first from the French National Network of Rare Psychiatric diseases and the second from the largest Italian neuro-pediatrics center for encephalopathies. Autoimmune conditions were diagnosed using a multidisciplinary approach and numerous paraclinical investigations. We retrospectively compared patients with and without catatonia for psychiatric and non-psychiatric clinical features, biological and imaging assessments, type of immunotherapy used and outcomes.

RESULTS: The sample included 25 patients (43%) with catatonia and 33 (57%) without catatonia. Forty-two patients (72.4%) had a definite AE (including 27 anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis) and 16 (27.6%) suspected autoimmune encephalitis. Patients with catatonia showed significantly more psychotic features [18 (72%) vs 9 (27.3%), p<0.001)] and more movement disorders [25 (100%) vs 20 (60.6%), p<0.001] than patients without catatonia. First line (corticoids, immunoglobulin and plasma exchanges) and second line (e.g., rituximab) therapies were more efficient in patients with catatonia, with 24 (96%) vs 22 (66.7%) (p=0.006) and 17 (68%) vs 9 (27.3%) (p=0.002), respectively. However, those with catatonia received more combinations of first and second line treatments and had more relapses during outcomes.

CONCLUSION: Despite its exploratory design, the study supports the idea that autoimmune catatonia may be a marker of severity and morbidity in terms of initial presentation and relapses, requiring the need for early and aggressive treatment.

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