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Suspected autoimmune encephalitis: A retrospective study of patients referred for therapeutic plasma exchange.

INTRODUCTION: Autoimmune encephalitis (AE) comprises a heterogeneous group of autoantibody-mediated disorders targeting the brain parenchyma. Therapeutic plasma exchange (TPE), one of several first-line therapies for AE, is often initiated when AE is suspected, albeit prior to an established diagnosis. We sought to characterize the role of TPE in the treatment of suspected AE.

METHODS: A single-center, retrospective analysis was performed of adults (≥18 years) who underwent at least one TPE procedure for "suspected AE." The following parameters were extracted and evaluated descriptively: clinicopathologic characteristics, treatment course, TPE-related adverse events, outcomes (e.g., modified Rankin scale [mRS]), and diagnosis once investigation was complete.

RESULTS: A total of 37 patients (median age 56 years, range 28-77 years, 62.2% male) were evaluated. Autoimmune antibody testing was positive in serum for 43.2% (n = 16) and cerebrospinal fluid for 29.7% (n = 11). Patients underwent a median of five TPE procedures (range 3-16), with 97.3% (n = 36) via a central line and 21.6% (n = 8) requiring at least one unit of plasma as replacement fluid. Fifteen patients (40.5%) experienced at least one TPE-related adverse event. Compared with mRS at admission, the mRS at discharge was improved in 21.6% (n = 8), unchanged in 59.5% (n = 22), or worse in 18.9% (n = 7). Final diagnosis of AE was determined to be definite in 48.6% (n = 18), probable in 8.1% (n = 3) and possible in 27.0% (n = 10). Six (16.2%) patients were ultimately determined to have an alternate etiology.

CONCLUSION: Empiric TPE for suspected AE is generally well-tolerated. However, its efficacy remains uncertain in the absence of controlled trials, particularly in the setting of seronegative disease.

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