Neuromyelitis optica (NMO) is an inflammatory demyelinating disease that principally targets the optic nerves and spinal cord and often leads to severe disability and occasionally life threatening respiratory failure. Although its clinical manifestations overlap with those of multiple sclerosis (MS), in established cases these two conditions can be distinguished on the basis of clinical, radiological, and routine spinal fluid studies. The diagnosis in early cases or limited forms of NMO is difficult. We recently discovered a unique IgG autoantibody (NMO-IgG) that is highly specific to patients with NMO and thus a valuable diagnostic aid. Its antigen, aquaporin-4 (AQP4), is the central nervous system's predominant water channel protein. This antibody has not yet been proven to be pathogenic, but several facts suggest that it might be, including the similarity of the immunohistochemical pattern of NMO-(AQP4) IgG binding to mouse CNS tissues to the pattern of immune complex deposition in autopsied patients' spinal cord tissue. The spectrum of diseases identified by NMO-IgG is broader than has previously been recognized clinically and includes incomplete forms of NMO, such as recurrent transverse myelitis without optic neuritis and recurrent optic neuritis without myelitis.