Background: In 70-80% of cases, neuromyelitis optica (NMO) is associated with highly specific serum auto-antibodies to aquaporin-4 (termed AQP4-Ab or NMO-IgG). Recent evidence strongly suggests that AQP4-Ab are directly involved in the immunopathogenesis of NMO.
Objective: To assess the frequency, syndrome specificity, diagnostic relevance, and origin of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) AQP4-Ab in patients with NMO spectrum disorders (NMOSD).
Methods: 87 CSF samples from 37 patients with NMOSD and 42 controls with other neurological diseases were tested for AQP4-Ab in a cell based assay using recombinant human AQP4. Twenty-three paired CSF and serum samples from AQP4-Ab seropositive NMOSD patients were further analysed for intrathecal IgG synthesis to AQP4.
Results: AQP4-Ab were detectable in 68% of CSF samples from AQP4-Ab seropositive patients with NMOSD, but in none of the CSF samples from AQP4-Ab seronegative patients with NMOSD and in none of the control samples. Acute disease relapse within 30 days prior to lumbar puncture, AQP4-Ab serum titres >1:250, and blood-CSF barrier dysfunction, but not treatment status, predicted CSF AQP4-Ab positivity. A positive AQP4-specific antibody index was present in 1/23 samples analysed.
Conclusions: AQP4-Ab are detectable in the CSF of most patients with NMOSD, mainly during relapse, and are highly specific for this condition. In the cohort analysed in this study, testing for CSF AQP4-Ab did not improve the sensitivity and specificity of the current diagnostic criteria for NMO. The substantial lack of intrathecal AQP4-Ab synthesis in patients with NMOSD may reflect the unique localisation of the target antigen at the blood brain barrier, and is important for our understanding of the immunopathogenesis of the disease.