All naturally occurring autoantibodies against the NMDA receptor subunit NR1 have pathogenic potential irrespective of epitope and immunoglobulin class

Mol Psychiatry. 2017 Dec;22(12):1776-1784. doi: 10.1038/mp.2016.125. Epub 2016 Aug 9.


Autoantibodies of the IgG class against N-methyl-d-aspartate-receptor subunit NR1 (NMDAR1) were first described in anti-NMDAR encephalitis and seen as disease indicators. Recent work on together over 5000 individuals challenged this exclusive view by showing age-dependently up to >20% NMDAR1-autoantibody seroprevalence with comparable immunoglobulin class and titer distribution across health and disease. The key question therefore is to understand the properties of these autoantibodies, also in healthy carriers, in order to assess secondary complications and possible contributions to neuropsychiatric disease. Here, we believe we provide for human NMDAR1-autoantibodies the first comprehensive analysis of their target epitopes and functionality. We selected sera of representative carriers, healthy or diagnosed with very diverse conditions, that is, schizophrenia, age-related disorders like hypertension and diabetes, or anti-NMDAR encephalitis. We show that all positive sera investigated, regardless of source (ill or healthy donor) and immunoglobulin class, provoked NMDAR1 internalization in human-induced pluripotent stem cell-derived neurons and reduction of glutamate-evoked currents in NR1-1b/NR2A-expressing Xenopus oocytes. They displayed frequently polyclonal/polyspecific epitope recognition in the extracellular or intracellular NMDAR1 domains and some additionally in NR2A. We conclude that all circulating NMDAR1-autoantibodies have pathogenic potential regarding the whole spectrum of neuronal NMDAR-mediated effects upon access to the brain in situations of increased blood-brain-barrier permeability.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Animals
  • Autoantibodies / blood*
  • Endocytosis / physiology
  • Epitopes / metabolism*
  • Female
  • Fibroblasts / immunology
  • Glutamic Acid / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Immunoglobulin A / metabolism*
  • Immunoglobulin G / metabolism*
  • Immunoglobulin M / metabolism*
  • Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells / immunology
  • Male
  • Membrane Potentials / physiology
  • Mental Disorders / blood
  • Mental Disorders / immunology
  • Middle Aged
  • Nervous System Diseases / blood
  • Nervous System Diseases / immunology
  • Neurons / immunology
  • Oocytes
  • Receptors, N-Methyl-D-Aspartate / immunology*
  • Xenopus laevis


  • Autoantibodies
  • Epitopes
  • Immunoglobulin A
  • Immunoglobulin G
  • Immunoglobulin M
  • NR1 NMDA receptor
  • Receptors, N-Methyl-D-Aspartate
  • Glutamic Acid