Utility of Neurodiagnostic Studies in the Diagnosis of Autoimmune Encephalitis in Children

Dara V. Albert, Charles P. Pluto, Amanda Weber, Jorge Vidaurre, Fatima Barbar-Smiley, Rabheh Abdul Aziz, Kyla Driest, Sharon Bout-Tabaku, Lynne Ruess, Jerome A. Rusin, Bethanie Morgan-Followell

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15 Scopus citations


Background Autoimmune encephalitis is currently a clinical diagnosis without widely accepted diagnostic criteria, often leading to a delay in diagnosis. The utility of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and electroencephalography (EEG) in this disease is unknown. The objective of this study was to identify disease-specific patterns of neurodiagnostic studies (MRI and EEG) for autoimmune encephalitis in children. Methods We completed a retrospective chart review of encephalopathic patients seen at a large pediatric hospital over a four year interval. Clinical presentation, autoantibody status, and MRI and EEG findings were identified and compared. Individuals with autoantibodies were considered "definite" cases, whereas those without antibodies or those with only thyroperoxidase antibodies were characterized as "suspected." Results Eighteen patients met the inclusion criteria and autoantibodies were identified in nine of these. The patients with definite autoimmune encephalitis had MRI abnormalities within limbic structures, most notably the anteromedial temporal lobes (56%). Only individuals with suspected disease had nontemporal lobe cortical lesions. Sixteen patients had an EEG and 13 (81%) of these were abnormal. The most common findings were abnormal background rhythm (63%), generalized slowing (50%), focal slowing (43%), and focal epileptiform discharges (31%). Sleep spindle abnormalities occurred in 38% of patients. There were no specific differences in the EEG findings between the definite and suspected cases. Focal EEG findings only correlated with a focal lesion on MRI in a single definite case. Conclusions Pediatric patients with definite autoimmune encephalitis have a narrow spectrum of MRI abnormalities. Conversely, EEG abnormalities are mostly nonspecific. All patients in our cohort had abnormalities on one or both of these neurodiagnostic studies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)37-45
Number of pages9
JournalPediatric Neurology
StatePublished - Feb 1 2016


  • GAD65 antibody
  • NMDA antibody
  • TPO antibody
  • autoimmune encephalitis
  • electroencephalogram (EEG)
  • magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)


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