Aggressive course in encephalitis with opsoclonus, ataxia, chorea, and seizures: the first pediatric case of γ-aminobutyric acid type B receptor autoimmunity

JAMA Neurol. 2014 May;71(5):620-3. doi: 10.1001/jamaneurol.2013.4786.


Importance: Autoantibodies to the γ-aminobutyric acid type B (GABAB) receptor have recently been identified as a cause of autoimmune encephalitis. Most patients with GABAB encephalitis have presented with limbic encephalitis. About half of the cases reported have been paraneoplastic in origin, with the majority of tumors representing small cell lung cancer.

Observations: We describe a 3-year-old boy who presented with a mixed movement disorder (opsoclonus, ataxia, and chorea) as well as seizures refractory to treatment. His seizures required continuous pentobarbital sodium infusion to be controlled. Despite treatment with intravenous corticosteroids and immunoglobulins, the patient ultimately died of overwhelming sepsis.

Conclusions and relevance: To our knowledge, this report represents the first pediatric case of GABAB-associated encephalitis. Our patient presented with encephalopathy, refractory seizures, and a mixed movement disorder rather than limbic encephalitis. γ-Aminobutyric acid type B receptor autoimmunity deserves consideration in pediatric patients presenting with encephalitis. Immune-mediated encephalitis with autoantibodies directed against synaptic proteins has become an important component of the differential diagnosis of patients with encephalitis. Current estimates suggest that a substantial proportion of patients once suspected to have viral encephalitis in fact have an autoimmune etiology for their symptoms.1 Additional autoantigen targets continue to be identified, and the phenotypic spectrum associated with autoimmune encephalitis continues to expand. We describe a 3-year-old patient who presented with acute-onset confusion, opsoclonus, chorea, and intractable seizures. Neuroimaging disclosed involvement of the brainstem, basal ganglia, and hippocampi. γ-Aminobutyric acid type B (GABAB) receptor autoantibodies were identified in the serum and cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). Despite immunomodulating therapy, the patient died of overwhelming sepsis. To our knowledge, this is the first description of a pediatric patient with GABAB receptor autoantibodies. The presence of opsoclonus, ataxia, and chorea expands the clinical phenotype and indicates that GABAB receptor autoimmunity should be considered in cases of pediatric encephalitis

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Ataxia / complications
  • Ataxia / diagnosis*
  • Ataxia / immunology
  • Autoantibodies / biosynthesis*
  • Autoantibodies / blood
  • Autoimmune Diseases / complications
  • Autoimmune Diseases / diagnosis*
  • Autoimmune Diseases / immunology*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Chorea / blood
  • Chorea / complications
  • Chorea / diagnosis*
  • Fatal Outcome
  • Humans
  • Limbic Encephalitis / complications
  • Limbic Encephalitis / diagnosis*
  • Limbic Encephalitis / immunology*
  • Male
  • Ocular Motility Disorders / blood
  • Ocular Motility Disorders / complications
  • Ocular Motility Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Receptors, GABA-B / biosynthesis
  • Receptors, GABA-B / blood
  • Receptors, GABA-B / immunology*
  • Seizures / blood
  • Seizures / complications
  • Seizures / diagnosis*


  • Autoantibodies
  • Receptors, GABA-B

Supplementary concepts

  • Autoimmune limbic encephalitis