Objective: To describe the neuropathological features of N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor (NMDAR)-encephalitis in an archival autopsy cohort.
Methods: We examined four autopsies from patients with NMDAR-encephalitis; two patients were untreated, three had comorbidities: small cell lung cancer, brain post-transplant lymphoproliferative disease (PTLD), and overlapping demyelination.
Results: The two untreated patients had inflammatory infiltrates predominantly composed of perivascular and parenchymal CD3+ /CD8- T cells and CD79a+ B cells/plasma cells in basal ganglia, amygdala, and hippocampus with surrounding white matter. The hippocampi showed a significant decrease of NMDAR-immunoreactivity that correlated with disease severity. The patient with NMDAR-encephalitis and immunosuppression for kidney transplantation developed a brain monomorphic PTLD. Inflammatory changes were compatible with NMDAR-encephalitis. Additionally, plasma cells accumulated in the vicinity of the necrotic tumor along with macrophages and activated microglia that strongly expressed pro-inflammatory activation markers HLA-DR, CD68, and IL18. The fourth patient developed demyelinating lesions in the setting of a relapse 4 years after NMDAR-encephalitis. These lesions exhibited the hallmarks of classic multiple sclerosis with radially expanding lesions and remyelinated shadow plaques without complement or immunoglobulin deposition, compatible with a pattern I demyelination.
Interpretation: The topographic distribution of inflammation in patients with NMDAR-encephalitis reflects the clinical symptoms of movement disorders, abnormal behavior, and memory dysfunction with inflammation dominantly observed in basal ganglia, amygdala, and hippocampus, and loss of NMDAR-immunoreactivity correlates with disease severity. Co-occurring pathologies influence the spatial distribution, composition, and intensity of inflammation, which may modify patients' clinical presentation and outcome. ANN NEUROL 2021;90:725-737.
© 2021 The Authors. Annals of Neurology published by Wiley Periodicals LLC on behalf of American Neurological Association.