Testing for N-methyl- d -aspartate Receptor Autoantibodies in Clinical Practice

John Brooks, Melanie L. Yarbrough, Robert C. Bucelli, Gregory S. Day

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Background: The diagnosis of anti-N-methyl-d-aspartate receptor (NMDAR) encephalitis relies on the detection of NMDAR IgG autoantibodies in the serum or cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) of symptomatic patients. Commercial kits are available that allow NMDAR IgG autoantibodies to be measured in local laboratories. However, the performance of these tests outside of reference laboratories is unknown.Objectives: To report an unexpectedly low rate of NMDAR autoantibody detection in serum from patients with anti-NMDAR encephalitis tested using a commercially available diagnostic kit in an exemplar clinical laboratory.Methods: Paired CSF and serum samples from seven patients with definite anti-NMDAR encephalitis were tested for NMDAR IgG autoantibodies using commercially available cell-based assays run according to manufacturer's recommendations. Rates of autoantibody detection in serum tested at our center were compared with those derived from systematic review and meta-analyses incorporating studies published during or before March 2019.Results: NMDAR IgG autoantibodies were detected in the CSF of all patients tested at our clinical laboratory but not in paired serum samples. Rates of the detection were lower than those previously reported. A similar association was recognized through meta-analyses, with lower odds of NMDAR IgG autoantibody detection associated with serum testing performed in nonreference laboratories.Conclusions: Commercial kits may yield lower-than-expected rates of NMDAR IgG autoantibody detection in serum when run in exemplar clinical (nonreference) laboratories. Additional studies are needed to decipher the factors that contribute to lower-than-expected rates of serum positivity. CSF testing is recommended in patients with suspected anti-NMDAR encephalitis.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)69-76
Number of pages8
JournalCanadian Journal of Neurological Sciences
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2020


  • Anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis
  • Autoimmune encephalitis
  • Diagnostic testing


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