Oligoclonal bands in multiple sclerosis cerebrospinal fluid: an update on methodology and clinical usefulness

J Neuroimmunol. 2006 Nov;180(1-2):17-28. doi: 10.1016/j.jneuroim.2006.07.006. Epub 2006 Sep 1.


Two or more oligoclonal IgG bands (OB) detected by separation of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) proteins while not demonstrable in corresponding serum reflect a local B-cell response accompanying central nervous system (CNS) inflammation. Using optimized, standardized methodology, preferentially protein separation by isoelectric focusing followed by immunoblotting, more than 95% of patients with multiple sclerosis (MS) have CSF OB of IgG class not detectable in serum, thereby providing powerful evidence for the diagnosis of MS. Once present, CSF OB persists in the individual patient irrespective of MS course or therapy. Because of the high sensitivity of CSF OB in MS as well as its high specificity in the appropriate clinical setting, examination of CSF for OB of IgG class can be strongly recommended to obtain support for the diagnosis of MS and identify patients with clinically isolated syndrome (CIS) at increased risk of developing MS. The IgG index equal to CSF/serum IgG:CSF/serum albumin is elevated in about 70% of MS patients, but rarely in CSF OB-negative MS. Because of lower diagnostic sensitivity, IgG index cannot be recommended as replacement of CSF OB in the diagnosis of MS but, when elevated, as additional evidence for an augmented B-cell response within the CNS that is compatible with MS. Although the clinical picture as well as findings from magnetic resonance imaging of the brain and spinal cord are essential for an MS diagnosis, this should be re-evaluated in CSF OB-negative patients, keeping in mind the many disease entities imitating MS. Recommended diagnostic criteria for MS must include definitions of the role of lumbar puncture and of clearly specified, optimized and standardized routine CSF investigations including for the presence of CSF IgG OB. There is a need for concerted long-term follow-up studies of the subgroup of MS patients without CSF OB regarding e.g. prognostic and immunologic features. For inclusion in trials of disease-modulating drugs, it is recommended that patients with MS or CIS are selected regarding presence vs. absence of CSF OB. Development and evaluation of new technologies to define local vs. systemic B-cell responses in patients with MS or CIS vs. patients with other inflammatory neurological diseases should shed new light on the role of CSF OB, which remains enigmatic.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antibody Formation / immunology
  • Autoantibodies / analysis
  • Autoantibodies / cerebrospinal fluid*
  • B-Lymphocytes / immunology
  • Cerebrospinal Fluid Proteins / analysis
  • Cerebrospinal Fluid Proteins / immunology*
  • Humans
  • Isoelectric Focusing / standards
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / standards
  • Multiple Sclerosis / cerebrospinal fluid*
  • Multiple Sclerosis / diagnosis*
  • Multiple Sclerosis / immunology
  • Oligoclonal Bands / analysis
  • Oligoclonal Bands / cerebrospinal fluid*
  • Predictive Value of Tests


  • Autoantibodies
  • Cerebrospinal Fluid Proteins
  • Oligoclonal Bands