Anti-N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor (NMDAR) encephalitis is an autoimmune inflammatory brain disease that can develop a variety of neuropsychiatric presentations. However, the underlying nature of its inflammatory neuronal injury remains unclear. Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) is recently regarded as a damage-associated molecular pattern molecule (DAMP) that can initiate an inflammatory response. In the presenting study, we aimed to evaluate the levels of cell-free mtDNA in cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) of patients with anti-NMDAR encephalitis and to determine a potential role of cell-free mtDNA in the prognosis of anti-NMDAR encephalitis. A total of 33 patients with NMDAR encephalitis and 17 patients with other non-inflammatory disorders as controls were included in this study. The CSF levels of cell-free mtDNA were measured by quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR). Cytokines including interleukin (IL)-6, IL-10, and tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-α) were measured by ELISA. The modified Rankin scale (mRS) score was evaluated for neurologic disabilities. Our data showed that the CSF levels of cell-free mtDNA and inflammation-associated cytokines were significantly higher in the patients with anti-NMDAR encephalitis compared with those in controls. Positive correlations were detected between the CSF levels of cell-free mtDNA and mRS scores of patients with anti-NMDAR encephalitis at both their admission and 6-month follow up. These findings suggest that the CSF level of cell-free mtDNA reflects the underlying neuroinflammatory process in patients with anti-NMDAR encephalitis and correlates with their clinical mRS scores. Therefore, cell-free mtDNA may be a potential prognostic biomarker for anti-NMDAR encephalitis
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