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OBJECTIVE: To generate a score which clinically identifies surface-directed autoantibodies in adults with new-onset focal epilepsy, and evaluate the value of immunotherapy in this clinical setting. METHODS: Prospective clinical and autoantibody evaluations in a cohort of 219 consecutive patients with new-onset focal epilepsy. RESULTS: 10.5% (23/219) of people with new-onset focal epilepsy had detectable serum autoantibodies to known or novel cell surface antigenic targets. 9/23 with autoantibodies were diagnosed with encephalitis, by contrast to 0/196 without autoantibodies (p<0.0001). Multivariate analysis identified six features which predicted autoantibody positivity (area under the curve=0.83): age ≥54 years, ictal piloerection, lowered self-reported mood, reduced attention, MRI limbic system changes and the absence of conventional epilepsy risk factors. 11/14 (79%) patients with detectable autoantibodies, but without encephalitis, showed excellent long-term outcomes (modified Rankin Score=0) despite no immunotherapy. These outcomes were superior to those of immunotherapy-treated patients with confirmed autoantibody-mediated encephalitis (p<0.05). CONCLUSIONS: Seizure semiology, cognitive and mood phenotypes, alongside inflammatory investigation findings, aid the identification of surface autoantibodies among unselected people with new-onset focal epilepsy. The excellent immunotherapy-independent outcomes of autoantibody-positive patients without encephalitis suggests immunotherapy administration should be guided by clinical features of encephalitis, rather than autoantibody positivity. Our findings suggest that, in this cohort, immunotherapy-responsive seizure syndromes with autoantibodies largely fall under the umbrella of autoimmune encephalitis.

Original publication




Journal article


J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry

Publication Date





291 - 294


autoimmune encephalitis, epilepsy, neuroimmunology, Adolescent, Adult, Aged, Autoantibodies, Cohort Studies, Encephalitis, Epilepsies, Partial, Female, Humans, Immunotherapy, Male, Middle Aged, Nerve Tissue Proteins, Predictive Value of Tests, ROC Curve, Young Adult