Background and objectives: Anti-NMDA receptor autoimmune encephalitis (NMDAR AE) is an autoantibody-mediated disorder characterized by seizures, neuropsychiatric symptoms, movement disorder, and focal neurologic deficits. Conventionally defined broadly as an inflammatory brain disease, the heterotopic localization is rarely discussed in children. Imaging findings are often nonspecific, and there are no early biomarkers of disease other than the presence of anti-NMDAR antibodies.
Methods: We conducted a retrospective analysis of our pediatric NMDAR AE cases (as determined by either positive serum or CSF antibodies or both) at Texas Children's Hospital between 2020-2021 and extracted medical record data of those patients who had arterial spin labeling (ASL) as part of their imaging workup for encephalitis. The ASL findings were described in the context of their symptoms and disease courses.
Results: We identified 3 children on our inpatient floor, intensive care unit (ICU), and emergency department (ED) settings who were diagnosed with NMDAR AE and had ASL performed as part of their focal neurologic symptom workup. All 3 patients presented with focal neurologic deficits, expressive aphasia, and focal seizures before the onset of other well-characterized NMDAR AE symptoms. Their initial MRI revealed no diffusion abnormalities but uncovered asymmetric and predominantly unilateral multifocal hyperperfusion of perisylvian/perirolandic regions on ASL that correlated with focal EEG abnormalities and their focal examination findings. All 3 patients were treated with first-line and second-line therapies, and their symptoms improved.
Discussion: We found that ASL may be a suitable early imaging biomarker to highlight perfusion changes corresponding to the functional localization of NMDAR AE in pediatric patients. We briefly highlight the neuroanatomic parallels between working models of schizophrenia, chronic NMDAR antagonist administration (ketamine abuse), and NMDAR AE affecting primarily language centers. The regional specificity seen in NMDAR hypofunction may make ASL a reasonable early and specific biomarker of NMDAR AE disease activity. Future studies are necessary to evaluate regional changes in those patients who present with primarily psychiatric phenotypes rather than classical focal neurologic deficits.
Copyright © 2023 The Author(s). Published by Wolters Kluwer Health, Inc. on behalf of the American Academy of Neurology.