Clinical efficacy of plasmapheresis in patients with neuromyelitis optica spectrum disorder and effects on circulating anti-aquaporin-4 antibody levels

J Clin Neurol. 2013 Jan;9(1):36-42. doi: 10.3988/jcn.2013.9.1.36. Epub 2013 Jan 3.


Background and purpose: Although plasmapheresis is becoming standard practice as a rescue therapy for neuromyelitis optica (NMO), evidence for the therapeutic efficacy of plasmapheresis is limited, and the effect of plasmapheresis on anti-aquaporin-4 (AQP4) levels in patients with NMO has not been reported. Here, our objective was to evaluate the clinical efficacy of therapeutic plasmapheresis and its effect on anti-AQP4 antibody levels in patients with NMO spectrum disorder (NMOSD).

Methods: We retrospectively reviewed the medical records of 15 patients with NMOSD who had 18 acute attacks and received plasmapheresis because they did not respond to high-dose intravenous methylprednisolone (IVMP) therapy. Anti-AQP4 antibodies were measured before and after plasmapheresis. The primary outcomes were functional improvements immediately and 6 months after plasmapheresis, and the secondary outcome was the change in anti-AQP4 antibody serum levels following plasmapheresis.

Results: Plasmapheresis following IVMP therapy led to significant improvement in 50% of the 18 attacks in 15 patients immediately after the procedure was completed, and in 78% (14 attacks) after 6 months. Plasmapheresis was generally well tolerated in all patients. Anti-AQP4 antibody serum levels declined significantly following plasmapheresis, to a mean of 15% of the preplasmapheresis levels. Lower scores on the visual outcome scale recorded before an attack were associated with significant immediate improvement upon the completion of plasmapheresis (p=0.03).

Conclusions: Plasmapheresis following IVMP therapy effectively removed anti-AQP4 antibodies and was accompanied by a substantial improvement in the neurological disability of patients with NMOSD. Lower levels of pre-existing neurological damage may be associated with an improved acute response to plasmapheresis.

Keywords: anti-aquaporin-4 antibody; neuromyelitis optica; plasmapheresis.