Patients with autoimmune encephalitis (AE) often present with symptoms that are broadly characterized as psychiatric or behavioral, yet little attention is given to the precise symptomatology observed. We sought to more fully define the psychiatric symptoms observed in patients with anti–N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor (NMDAR), anti–glutamic-acid-decarboxylase 65 (GAD65), and anti–voltage-gated-potassium-channel complex (VGKC) antibody-mediated AE using the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition nomenclature.


We present a case series (n = 25) using a retrospective chart review of 225 patients evaluated for AE in a tertiary care academic medical center between 2014 and 2018. The included patients were ≤18 years old with anti-NMDAR AE (n = 13), anti-GAD65 AE (n = 7), or anti-VGKC AE (n = 5). The frequency of neuropsychiatric symptoms present at the onset of illness and time to diagnosis were compared across groups.


Psychiatric symptoms were seen in 92% of patients in our cohort. Depressive features (72%), personality change (64%), psychosis (48%), and catatonia (32%) were the most common psychiatric symptoms exhibited. On average, patients experienced impairment in ≥4 of 7 symptom domains. No patients had isolated psychiatric symptoms. The average times to diagnosis were 1.7, 15.5, and 12.4 months for anti-NMDAR AE, anti-GAD65 AE, and anti-VGKC AE, respectively (P < .001).


The psychiatric phenotype of AE in children is highly heterogenous. Involving psychiatry consultation services can be helpful in differentiating features of psychosis and catatonia, which may otherwise be misidentified. Patients presenting with psychiatric symptoms along with impairments in other domains should prompt a workup for AE, including testing for all known antineuronal antibodies.

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