Neuroimmunology Program - IDIBAPS

What is Autoimmune Encephalitis?

Autoimmune encephalitis is the name given to a group of diseases that result from widespread inflammation of the brain. The disorders frequently affect children and young adults. Patients with autoimmune encephalitis may develop a variety of problems including loss of memory, change in behavior or thinking, seizures, movement disorders, or coma. Patients can become very sick, however with appropriate treatment and rehabilitation most of these patients will recover.

How are these disorders diagnosed?

The diagnosis of autoimmune encephalitis depends heavily on the clinical evaluation including the patients’ medical history and symptoms. Importantly most patients with these disorders have antibodies (immune proteins) in their blood or the cerebral spinal fluid that are specific for these disorders. Many of these antibodies and the tests to measure them have been identified by researchers in our program. Some of the autoimmune encephalitis syndromes occur more often in patients with cancer. In these cases, tests such as CAT scan or PET imaging are done to help find the cancer.

How are these disorders treated?

In general these disorders are treated with immunotherapies including steroids, intravenous immunoglobulins (IVIg), rituximab or cyclophosphamide. When a cancer is found we work with medical oncologists to address its treatment.  Patients with autoimmune encephalitis can become very ill and may need intensive care for many weeks. Some patients may require help breathing. It is important that patients be treated by a team of experienced doctors that can address all of the problems the patients may develop and can also help the patients as they recover from the illness.

How our center contributes?

We are an international center of referral for the study of these disorders. Our physicians have years of clinical experience diagnosing and treating patients with autoimmune encephalitis. Our researchers are the leaders in the field of identifying the immune proteins that are used to diagnose these diseases and for developing new treatment strategies that improve outcomes for patients.