Autoantibodies in neurological disease

Nat Rev Immunol. 2021 Dec;21(12):798-813. doi: 10.1038/s41577-021-00543-w. Epub 2021 May 11.


The realization that autoantibodies can contribute to dysfunction of the brain has brought about a paradigm shift in neurological diseases over the past decade, offering up important novel diagnostic and therapeutic opportunities. Detection of specific autoantibodies to neuronal or glial targets has resulted in a better understanding of central nervous system autoimmunity and in the reclassification of some diseases previously thought to result from infectious, 'idiopathic' or psychogenic causes. The most prominent examples, such as aquaporin 4 autoantibodies in neuromyelitis optica or NMDAR autoantibodies in encephalitis, have stimulated an entire field of clinical and experimental studies on disease mechanisms and immunological abnormalities. Also, these findings inspired the search for additional autoantibodies, which has been very successful to date and has not yet reached its peak. This Review summarizes this rapid development at a point in time where preclinical studies have started delivering fundamental new data for mechanistic understanding, where new technologies are being introduced into this field, and - most importantly - where the first specifically tailored immunotherapeutic approaches are emerging.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Aquaporin 4 / immunology
  • Autoantibodies / immunology*
  • Autoimmunity*
  • Brain / immunology
  • Brain / physiopathology
  • Encephalitis / immunology
  • Encephalitis / physiopathology
  • Encephalitis / therapy
  • Humans
  • Neuromyelitis Optica / immunology*
  • Neuromyelitis Optica / physiopathology
  • Neuromyelitis Optica / therapy
  • Receptors, N-Methyl-D-Aspartate / immunology


  • Aquaporin 4
  • Autoantibodies
  • Receptors, N-Methyl-D-Aspartate