Epileptic seizures are a common manifestation of autoimmune encephalitis (AIE). Immunosuppression (IT) is an efficient therapeutic approach, particularly in AIE associated with antibodies against extracellular structures. The role of antiseizure medication (ASM) is less clear. However, it may be beneficial in disease refractory to IT or in chronic post-AIE epilepsy.
We conducted a systematic review assessing the PubMed and Cochrane databases to identify all reports on patients with epileptic seizures due to AIE in whom ASM was used and report it according to the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) standards. We included case series (minimum 3 eligible patients), retrospective and prospective observational studies, and randomized controlled trials. The main outcome assessed was therapeutic efficacy of ASM. Secondary outcomes comprise number, type, and adverse effects of ASM. Descriptive statistics were used. The level of evidence was assessed according to the Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine.
We screened a total of 3371 studies and included 30 (7 prospective, 23 retrospective). The reports cover a total of 708 patients, the majority (72.5%) suffering from AIE with antibodies against extracellular structures. Type of AIE, seizure frequency, and number and type of ASM used were heterogenous. While most patients profited from IT and/or ASM, the effect of ASM could rarely be isolated. Nine studies report on patients who received ASM monotherapy or were on ASM for a relevant length of time before IT initiation or after IT failure. One study reports a significant association between seizure freedom and use of sodium channel inhibitors. However, levels of evidence were generally low.
Few robust data exist on the particular efficacy of ASM in autoimmune epileptic seizures. While these patients generally seem to respond less well to ASM or surgical interventions, sodium channel blockers may have an additional benefit compared to other substances. However, levels of evidence are low and early IT remains the mainstay of AIE therapy. Future trials should address optimal ASM selection and dosing in AIE.