A New York Post reporter writes her experience suffering an autoimmune disease described by Dr. Josep Dalmau’s team

"Brain on Fire: My Month of MadnessBrain on Fire: My Month of Madness” is the title of the memoir published by Susannah Cahalan, a young journalist from the New York Post. In this book she traces her recovery from an autoimmune disorder that masqueraded as psychosis. In 2007 the team led by Dr Josep Dalmau, first at the University of Pennsylvania and now at IDIBAPS too, presented to the world a new class of autoimmune disease involving neuronal NMDA-receptors. Thanks to that, a 24-year-old reporter was treated and recovered from an unknown disease causing her near-fatal seizures, psychosis, and a gradual loss of brain function. The Scientific American journal writes about this book and the research that made it possible.

Dr Josep Dalmau, ICREA Research Professor at IDIBAPS and Professor of Neurology at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, leads at IDIBAPS the Autoimmunity against Synaptic Antigens team. Their research focuses on a group of diseases located at the intercrossing of autoimmunity, cancer and synaptic proteins. This includes the description of new syndromes, the associated immune mechanisms, isolation of the target antigens, and the development of diagnostic tests and treatment strategies. These studies have identified 17 autoantigens and have led to diagnostic tests, some of which are used all over the world.

In the last 5 years, Dr Dalmau has discovered a new category of autoimmune processes resulting in memory, behaviour and cognition alterations, and which may cause psychosis like happened to Susannah Cahalan. These processes are associated with autoimmune responses characterised by antibodies targeted at synaptic proteins and receptors, such as the glutamate receptors (NMDA, AMPA) or the GABA(B) receptors, or synaptic proteins related with epilepsy (LGI1, Caspr2). The results of these studies have had an impact on many medical disciplines and on neuroscience, since they offer a link between immune processes and synaptic activity related to memory, behaviour, psychosis, epilepsy and neuron degeneration.

In fact, this issue has been breaking news in the United States. It was covered by prestigious media such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, the NPR (National Public Radio), or TV programs such as Discovery Channel: Mistery Diagnosis, Good Morning America or journalist Katie Couric’s show.

Read in Scientific American more about Susannah Cahalan’s book, “Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness”, and the research conducted by Dr. Dalmau.