Ependyma: a new target for autoantibodies in neuromyelitis optica?

Brain Commun. 2022 Nov 30;4(6):fcac307. doi: 10.1093/braincomms/fcac307. eCollection 2022.


Neuromyelitis optica (NMO) is an autoimmune demyelinating disease of the central nervous system characterized by the presence of autoantibodies (called NMO-IgG) targeting aquaporin-4. Aquaporin-4 is expressed at the perivascular foot processes of astrocytes, in the glia limitans, but also at the ependyma. Most studies have focused on studying the pathogenicity of NMO-IgG on astrocytes, and NMO is now considered an astrocytopathy. However, periependymal lesions are observed in NMO suggesting that ependymal cells could also be targeted by NMO-IgG. Ependymal cells regulate CSF-parenchyma molecular exchanges and CSF flow, and are a niche for sub-ventricular neural stem cells. Our aim was to examine the effect of antibodies from NMO patients on ependymal cells. We exposed two models, i.e. primary cultures of rat ependymal cells and explant cultures of rat lateral ventricular wall whole mounts, to purified IgG of NMO patients (NMO-IgG) for 24 hours. We then evaluated the treatment effect using immunolabelling, functional assays, ependymal flow analysis and bulk RNA sequencing. For each experiment, the effects were compared with those of purified IgG from a healthy donors and non-treated cells. We found that: (i) NMO-IgG induced aquaporin-4 agglomeration at the surface of ependymal cells and induced cell enlargement in comparison to controls. In parallel, it induced an increase in gap junction connexin-43 plaque size; (ii) NMO-IgG altered the orientation of ciliary basal bodies and functionally impaired cilia motility; (iii) NMO-IgG activated the proliferation of sub-ventricular neural stem cells; (iv) treatment with NMO-IgG up-regulated the expression of pro-inflammatory cytokines and chemokines in the transcriptomic analysis. Our study showed that NMO-IgG can trigger an early and specific reactive phenotype in ependymal cells, with functional alterations of intercellular communication and cilia, activation of sub-ventricular stem cell proliferation and the secretion of pro-inflammatory cytokines. These findings suggest a key role for ependymal cells in the early phase of NMO lesion formation.

Keywords: aquaporin-4; cilia; ependymal cell; neuromyelitis optica; sub-ventricular zone.