Anti-gamma-aminobutyric acid receptor type A encephalitis: a review

Curr Opin Neurol. 2020 Jun;33(3):372-380. doi: 10.1097/WCO.0000000000000814.


Purpose of review: To systematically review the clinical features, diagnosis, and management of anti-gamma-aminobutyric acid receptor Type A (GABAA) autoimmune encephalitis with a focus on recent data.

Recent findings: In a review of published reports, we identified 50 cases of anti-GABAA receptor encephalitis with clinical features reported. The median age at presentation was 47 years old (range, 2.5 months-88 years old), 64% were adults, 36% were children and it occurred in both males and females. Eight-two percent (41/50) presented with seizures, 72% (36/50) with encephalopathy, and 58% (29/50) with both. Of those presenting with seizures, 42% developed status epilepticus during their disease course. Ninety-six percent (48/50) had MRI results reported, with 83% of these cases having abnormal findings, most commonly multifocal/diffuse cortical and subcortical T2/FLAIR hyperintense lesions without associated gadolinium enhancement. Almost one-third, 28% (14/50), had an associated malignancy detected by the time of diagnosis, 64% (9/14) of which was thymoma. Of 44 patients with outcomes reported, 80% had partial or complete recovery, whereas 20% had poor outcomes including 11% (5/44) who died. Of the 42 patients with type of treatment(s) and outcomes reported, 54% (23/42) received only first-line immunotherapy and 31% (13/42) received first-line and second-line immunotherapy. Receiving a combination of first-line and second-line immunotherapy may be associated with higher likelihood of complete recovery. When follow-up MRIs were reported, all showed improvement, and sometimes complete resolution, of T2/FLAIR hyperintensities.

Summary: Anti-GABAA receptor encephalitis can present across the age spectrum and should be considered in patients who present with rapidly progressive encephalopathy and/or seizures. Brain MRI often shows a distinctive pattern of multifocal cortical and subcortical T2/FLAIR hyperintense lesions, generally not typical of other known central nervous system autoantibody associated encephalitis syndromes. High clinical suspicion and early diagnosis are important given the potential for clinical improvement with immunotherapy.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Autoantibodies*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Encephalitis / diagnosis*
  • Encephalitis / immunology
  • Encephalitis / therapy
  • Female
  • Hashimoto Disease / diagnosis*
  • Hashimoto Disease / immunology
  • Hashimoto Disease / therapy
  • Humans
  • Immunotherapy / methods*
  • Infant
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Receptors, GABA-A / immunology*
  • Seizures / diagnosis*
  • Seizures / drug therapy
  • Seizures / immunology
  • Seizures / therapy
  • Young Adult


  • Autoantibodies
  • Receptors, GABA-A

Supplementary concepts

  • Hashimoto's encephalitis