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J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry. 2007 Apr;78(4):381-5. Epub 2006 Sep 15.

Autoimmune limbic encephalitis in 39 patients: immunophenotypes and outcomes.

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Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA.



About 40% of patients with limbic encephalitis do not have detectable CNS antibodies. Some of these patients have immune-mediated limbic encephalitis, but their frequency is unknown.


(1) To determine the spectrum of limbic encephalitis identified on clinical grounds in a single institution, and compare it with that in patients referred for antibody analysis. (2) To correlate clinical outcomes with the cellular location of the autoantigens.


Prospective clinical case studies. Immunohistochemistry with rat brain, live hippocampal neurones, HeLa cells expressing Kv potassium channels and immunoblot.


In 4 years, 17 patients were identified in the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, USA, and the serum or CSF samples of 22 patients diagnosed elsewhere were also studied. 9 of our 17 (53%) patients had antibodies to known neuronal antigens (paraneoplastic or voltage gated potassium channels (VGKCs)) and 5 (29%) to novel cell-membrane antigens (nCMAg) typically expressed in the hippocampus and sometimes in the cerebellum. Considering the entire series, 19 of 39 (49%) patients had antibodies to known antigens, and 17 (44%) to nCMAg. Follow-up (2-48 months, median 19 months) was available for 35 patients. When compared with patients with antibodies to intraneuronal antigens, a significant association with response to treatment was found in those with antibodies to cell-membrane antigens in general (VGKC or nCMAg, p = 0.003) or to nCMAg (p = 0.006).


(1) 82% of patients with limbic encephalitis prospectively identified on clinical grounds had CNS antibodies; (2) responsiveness to treatment is not limited to patients with VGKC antibodies; (3) in many patients (29% from a single institution), the autoantigens were unknown but were found to be highly enriched in neuronal cell membranes of the hippocampus; and (4) these antibodies are associated with a favourable outcome.

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