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IMPORTANCE: Rapid and accurate diagnosis of autoimmune encephalitis encourages prompt initiation of immunotherapy toward improved patient outcomes. However, clinical features alone may not sufficiently narrow the differential diagnosis, and awaiting autoantibody results can delay immunotherapy. OBJECTIVE: To identify simple magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) characteristics that accurately distinguish 2 common forms of autoimmune encephalitis, LGI1- and CASPR2-antibody encephalitis (LGI1/CASPR2-Ab-E), from 2 major differential diagnoses, viral encephalitis (VE) and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD). DESIGN, SETTING, AND PARTICIPANTS: This cross-sectional study involved a retrospective, blinded analysis of the first available brain MRIs (taken 2000-2022) from 192 patients at Oxford University Hospitals in the UK and Mayo Clinic in the US. These patients had LGI1/CASPR2-Ab-E, VE, or CJD as evaluated by 2 neuroradiologists (discovery cohort; n = 87); findings were validated in an independent cohort by 3 neurologists (n = 105). Groups were statistically compared with contingency tables. Data were analyzed in 2023. MAIN OUTCOMES AND MEASURES: MRI findings including T2 or fluid-attenuated inversion recovery (FLAIR) hyperintensities, swelling or volume loss, presence of gadolinium contrast enhancement, and diffusion-weighted imaging changes. Correlations with clinical features. RESULTS: Among 192 participants with MRIs reviewed, 71 were female (37%) and 121 were male (63%); the median age was 66 years (range, 19-92 years). By comparison with VE and CJD, in LGI1/CASPR2-Ab-E, T2 and/or FLAIR hyperintensities were less likely to extend outside the temporal lobe (3/42 patients [7%] vs 17/18 patients [94%] with VE; P 

Original publication




Journal article


JAMA Neurol

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