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Neuroimmunology: specialties

The Neuroimmunology Unit diagnoses, treats and studies diseases that involve inflammation of the brain and/or that cause anomalies in immune system responses, in some cases developing antibodies against white matter neurons or proteins. We have divided autoimmune diseases and neuroinfections into six groups, which include the following:

Demyelinating diseases

Diseases characterised by an inflammatory condition affecting the myelin, also called white matter, which regenerates the neuronal axons. Once the diagnosis is made, we evaluate the risk of a new episode occurring. If necessary, we start treatment with the aim of preventing possible future episodes. The most frequent disorders that can be caused by myelin disorders include: 

Multiple Sclerosis (MS)

Disease caused by the most common myelin disorder affecting the central nervous system. Its cause is unknown. We treat paediatric cases, which make up 5% of the total number of MS patients.

It is not covered by public health

Neuromyelitis optica spectrum diseases

Chronic autoimmune disease that is manifested as an immune system attack on optic nerve neurons and the spinal medulla.

It is not covered by public health

Acute disseminated encephalomyelitis (ADEM)

This is characterised by an autoimmune response that predominantly affects white matter, which is usually triggered after an infection.

It is not covered by public health

Other demyelinating diseases

This group includes optic neuritis (inflammation of the optic nerve), myelitis (inflammation of the spinal medulla) and other monophasic or recurrent demyelinating disorders.

It is not covered by public health

Paediatric autoimmune encephalitis

This type of disease mainly affects grey brain matter (neurons). In the majority of cases the cause is currently unknown. Our group recently discovered that a large proportion of these are caused by protein antibodies that are found on the surface of the neurons. They can have a wide range of symptoms which include movement disorders, psychiatric symptoms and epileptic seizures.

Anti-NMDAR encephalitis

The anti-NMDAR antibody acts against the neuron receptors and causes psychiatric disorders, movement disorders and seizures. 50% of those affected are children.

It is not covered by public health

Anti-GABA-AR antibody encephalitis

The GABAAR antibody acts against this neuron receptor and causes encephalitis and refractory epileptic seizures. 40% of those affected are children.

It is not covered by public health

Ophelia syndrome (encephalitis caused by anti-mGluR5 antibodies)

The anti-mGluR5 antibodies act against this receptor causing psychiatric disorders, memory deficit and epileptic seizures. It is frequently associated with Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

It is not covered by public health

Neuroinfections

Some types of infection affect the central nervous system. They can be caused by bacteria, viruses, fungus or parasites. The origin or cause, due to which a small percentage of patients are seriously affected by these agents seriously, is currently being investigated. In some of these diseases, the patient’s inflammatory response can cause deterioration and neurological symptoms. Our main lines of research focus on the following diseases:

Herpetic encephalitis

This is associated with the herpes simplex virus and its effects on the nervous system are very serious. We study the origin of the disease and its complications.

It is not covered by public health

Congenital disease caused by cytomegalovirus (CMV)

This is caused by a common virus, cytomegalovirus, whose infection is very prevalent and usually asymptomatic. It can cause a wide range of neurological symptoms.

It is not covered by public health

Paediatric paraneoplastic syndromes

Heterogeneous group of neurological disorders that are seen in patients with neoplasms, generally undiscovered at the time the neurological symptoms appear. An example is opsoclonus myoclonus syndrome, which may be associated with a neuroblastoma.

Autoimmune diseases of the peripheral nervous system

Some autoimmune diseases affect the peripheral nerves causing weakness and gait disorders. This is the case with Guillain-Barré Syndrome and chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy (CIDP). In some of these diseases we can also find associated antibodies.

Other inflammatory diseases of the central nervous system

Certain diseases, due to a mutation in a gene that controls inflammation, lead to permanent activation of the immune system, which causes inflammatory and autoimmune neurological conditions. This occurs in genetic-based diseases such as Aicardi Goutieres Syndrome and in autoinflammatory and primary immunodeficiency diseases.

Other systemic inflammatory diseases of unknown origin, such as systemic lupus erythematosus, vasculitis and Behçet’s disease may also cause neurological problems due to inflammation of the nervous system.

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