Objective: To investigate whether autoantibodies to ion channels and other neural antigens are present in the sera of patients with epilepsy and seizure-related diseases.
Methods: Sera were obtained from 139 patients, including 26 with preexisting autoimmune disease, 46 in whom an autoimmune basis was suspected, and 67 with drug-resistant epilepsy. The sera were assayed for antibodies to voltage-gated potassium (VGKC) and calcium (VGCC) channels, glutamic acid decarboxylase (GAD), gangliosides, glutamate receptor type 3, cardiolipins, DNA, and nuclear antigens; the results were compared with results from a large cohort of healthy and disease controls.
Results: Increased titers of VGKC antibodies (>100 pM) were detected in 16 of 139 (11%) patients with seizures but only 1 control (0.5%). Eight VGKC-positive patients presented with an acute/subacute illness, and 5 of these had the highest VGKC antibodies; 3 patients improved spontaneously, another 5 patients responded well to immunomodulatory therapy. The other VGKC-positive patients had longer disease duration (>6 years) and intermediate levels of antibodies; immunotherapies have not been tested in this group. Very high levels of GAD antibodies (>1,000 U) were found in an additional 3 patients (2.1%) with long-standing drug-resistant epilepsy.
Conclusions: The presence of autoantibodies to voltage-gated potassium channels and glutamic acid decarboxylase suggests that the immune system may contribute to certain forms of epilepsy or seizure-associated disorders. Further studies are needed to determine whether the antibodies are pathogenic.