Background: Susac syndrome (SuS) is a rare disorder thought to be caused by autoimmune-mediated occlusions of microvessels in the brain, retina and inner ear leading to central nervous system (CNS) dysfunction, visual disturbances due to branch retinal artery occlusions (BRAO), and hearing deficits. Recently, a role for anti-endothelial cell antibodies (AECA) in SuS has been proposed.
Objectives: To report the clinical and paraclinical findings in the largest single series of patients so far and to investigate the frequency, titers, and clinical relevance of AECA in SuS.
Patients and methods: A total of 107 serum samples from 20 patients with definite SuS, 5 with abortive forms of SuS (all with BRAO), and 70 controls were tested for AECA by immunohistochemistry employing primate brain tissue sections.
Results: IgG-AECA >1:100 were detected in 25% (5/20) of patients with definite SuS and in 4.3% (3/70) of the controls. Median titers were significantly higher in SuS (1:3200, range 1:100 to 1:17500) than in controls (1:100, range 1:10 to 1:320); IgG-AECA titers >1:320 were exclusively present in patients with SuS; three controls had very low titers (1:10). Follow-up samples (n = 4) from a seropositive SuS patient obtained over a period of 29 months remained positive at high titers. In all seropositive cases, AECA belonged to the complement-activating IgG1 subclass. All but one of the IgG-AECA-positive samples were positive also for IgA-AECA and 45% for IgM-AECA. SuS took a severe and relapsing course in most patients and was associated with bilateral visual and hearing impairment, a broad panel of neurological and neuropsychological symptoms, and brain atrophy in the majority of cases. Seropositive and seronegative patients did not differ with regard to any of the clinical or paraclinical parameters analyzed.
Conclusions: SuS took a severe and protracted course in the present cohort, resulting in significant impairment. Our finding of high-titer IgG1 and IgM AECA in some patients suggest that humoral autoimmunity targeting the microvasculature may play a role in the pathogenesis of SuS, at least in a subset of patients. Further studies are warranted to define the exact target structures of AECA in SuS.