Autoantibodies to Synaptic Receptors and Neuronal Cell Surface Proteins in Autoimmune Diseases of the Central Nervous System

Physiol Rev. 2017 Apr;97(2):839-887. doi: 10.1152/physrev.00010.2016.


Investigations in the last 10 years have revealed a new category of neurological diseases mediated by antibodies against cell surface and synaptic proteins. There are currently 16 such diseases all characterized by autoantibodies against neuronal proteins involved in synaptic signaling and plasticity. In clinical practice these findings have changed the diagnostic and treatment approach to potentially lethal, but now treatable, neurological and psychiatric syndromes previously considered idiopathic or not even suspected to be immune-mediated. Studies show that patients' antibodies can impair the surface dynamics of the target receptors eliminating them from synapses (e.g., NMDA receptor), block the function of the antigens without changing their synaptic density (e.g., GABAb receptor), interfere with synaptic protein-protein interactions (LGI1, Caspr2), alter synapse formation (e.g., neurexin-3α), or by unclear mechanisms associate to a new form of tauopathy (IgLON5). Here we first trace the process of discovery of these diseases, describing the triggers and symptoms related to each autoantigen, and then review in detail the structural and functional alterations caused by the autoantibodies with special emphasis in those (NMDA receptor, amphiphysin) that have been modeled in animals.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Autoantibodies / immunology*
  • Autoimmune Diseases / immunology*
  • Central Nervous System Diseases / immunology*
  • Humans
  • Membrane Proteins / immunology*
  • Neurons / immunology*
  • Receptors, Neurotransmitter / immunology*


  • Autoantibodies
  • Membrane Proteins
  • Receptors, Neurotransmitter