Background: In children, exacerbations of tics and obsessive symptoms may occur after infection with group A beta-haemolytic streptococci. If post-streptococcal autoimmunity is the cause of the exacerbations, then children might respond to immunomodulatory treatments such as plasma exchange or intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIG). We studied whether plasma exchange or IVIG would be better than placebo (sham IVIG) in reducing severity of neuropsychiatric symptoms.
Methods: Children with severe, infection-triggered exacerbations of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) or tic disorders, including Tourette syndrome, were randomly assigned treatment with plasma exchange (five single-volume exchanges over 2 weeks), IVIG (1 g/kg daily on 2 consecutive days), or placebo (saline solution given in the same manner as IVIG). Symptom severity was rated at baseline, and at 1 month and 12 months after treatment by use of standard assessment scales for OCD, tics, anxiety, depression, and global function.
Findings: 30 children entered the study and 29 completed the trial. Ten received plasma exchange, nine IVIG, and ten placebo. At 1 month, the IVIG and plasma exchange groups showed striking improvements in obsessive-compulsive symptoms (mean improvement on children's Yale-Brown obsessive compulsive scale score of 12 [45%] and 13 [58%], respectively), anxiety (2.1 [31%] and 3.0 [47%] improvement on National Institute of Mental Health anxiety scale), and overall functioning (2.9 [33%] and 2.8 [35%] improvement on National Institute of Mental Health global scale). Tic symptoms were also significantly improved by plasma exchange (mean change on Tourette syndrome unified rating scale of 49%). Treatment gains were maintained at 1 year, with 14 (82%) of 17 children "much" or "very much" improved over baseline (seven of eight for plasma exchange, seven of nine for IVIG).
Interpretation: Plasma exchange and IVIG were both effective in lessening of symptom severity for children with infection-triggered OCD and tic disorders. Further studies are needed to determine the active mechanism of these interventions, and to determine which children with OCD and tic disorders will benefit from immunomodulatory therapies.