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Autoimmune Encephalitis

The role of infections in autoimmune encephalitides

B. Joubert, J.Dalmau
International meeting of the French society of neurology & SPILF 2019

Abstract: Autoimmune encephalitides are autoimmune neurological disorders characterized by rapidly progressive central nervous system symptoms associated with specific auto-antibodies targeting neuronal cell-surface proteins. The clinical features of encephalitis are frequently preceded by symptoms suggesting an infectious process, and specific pathogens have been detected at the early phase of the disease in some patients, suggesting that it can be triggered by infections. Moreover, recent data have shown an association with specific HLA haplotypes, suggesting a genetic susceptibility to develop at least some subtypes of autoimmune encephalitis. Nonetheless, the immunological mechanisms leading from an adequate response to infection to autoimmunity against neuronal self-antigens remain highly hypothetical. Molecular mimicry, inborn errors of the host immune system, as well as epitope spreading and chronic activation of innate immunity actors, may be involved. Importantly, the frequency of prodromal infectious symptoms and association with HLA haplotypes differ among autoimmune encephalitides, suggesting that depending on the subtype distinct immunopathogenic mechanisms are involved. A direct link between infection and autoimmune encephalitis was recently provided by the demonstration that most of the so-called relapsing neurological symptoms post-herpes simplex virus encephalitis corresponded to viral-induced autoimmune encephalitis with antibodies against NMDA receptors or other, yet unknown, neuronal surface antigens. Although this association has also been demonstrated experimentally in mice, the underlying immunological mechanisms remain unknown. Overall, a body of clinical, epidemiological and experimental data suggests infections are involved in the pathogenesis of autoimmune encephalitides. Further studies, focusing on the interplays between pathogens, genetic determinants of the host immune response, and brain inflammation, are needed to clarify the immunological mechanisms that lead to autoimmune encephalitis after infection.