Background: In 2007, the California Encephalitis Project (CEP), which was established to study the epidemiology of encephalitis, began identifying cases of anti-N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor (anti-NMDAR) encephalitis. Increasing numbers of anti-NMDAR encephalitis cases have been identified at the CEP, and this form rivals commonly known viral etiologies as a causal agent. We report here the relative frequency and differences among encephalitides caused by anti-NMDAR and viral etiologies within the CEP experience.
Methods: Demographic, frequency, and clinical data from patients with anti-NMDAR encephalitis are compared with those with viral encephalitic agents: enterovirus, herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1), varicella-zoster virus (VZV), and West Nile virus (WNV). All examined cases presented to the CEP between September 2007 and February 2011 and are limited to individuals aged ≤30 years because of the predominance of anti-NMDAR encephalitis in this group. The diagnostic costs incurred in a single case are also included.
Results: Anti-NMDAR encephalitis was identified >4 times as frequently as HSV-1, WNV, or VZV and was the leading entity identified in our cohort. We found that 65% of anti-NMDAR encephalitis occurred in patients aged ≤18 years. This disorder demonstrated a predilection, which was not observed with viral etiologies, for females (P < .01). Seizures, language dysfunction, psychosis, and electroencephalographic abnormalities were significantly more frequent in patients with anti-NMDAR encephalitis (P < .05), and autonomic instability occurred exclusively in this group.
Discussion: Anti-NMDAR encephalitis rivals viral etiologies as a cause of encephalitis within the CEP cohort. This entity deserves a prominent place on the encephalitic differential diagnosis to avoid unnecessary diagnostic and treatment costs, and to permit a more timely treatment.