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Open Access Highly Accessed Review

Neuromyelitis optica pathogenesis and aquaporin 4

David J Graber1, Michael Levy2, Douglas Kerr2 and William F Wade3*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Pathology, Dartmouth Medical School, Lebanon, New Hampshire, USA

2 Department of Neurology, Johns Hopkins Medical School, Baltimore, Maryland, USA

3 Department of Microbiology and Immunology, Dartmouth Medical School, Lebanon, New Hampshire, USA

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Journal of Neuroinflammation 2008, 5:22  doi:10.1186/1742-2094-5-22

Published: 29 May 2008

Abstract

Neuromyelitis optica (NMO) is a severe, debilitating human disease that predominantly features immunopathology in the optic nerves and the spinal cord. An IgG1 autoantibody (NMO-IgG) that binds aquaporin 4 (AQP4) has been identified in the sera of a significant number of NMO patients, as well as in patients with two related neurologic conditions, bilateral optic neuritis (ON), and longitudinal extensive transverse myelitis (LETM), that are generally considered to lie within the NMO spectrum of diseases. NMO-IgG is not the only autoantibody found in NMO patient sera, but the correlation of pathology in central nervous system (CNS) with tissues that normally express high levels of AQP4 suggests NMO-IgG might be pathogenic. If this is the case, it is important to identify and understand the mechanism(s) whereby an immune response is induced against AQP4. This review focuses on open questions about the "events" that need to be understood to determine if AQP4 and NMO-IgG are involved in the pathogenesis of NMO. These questions include: 1) How might AQP4-specific T and B cells be primed by either CNS AQP4 or peripheral pools of AQP4? 2) Do the different AQP4-expressing tissues and perhaps the membrane structural organization of AQP4 influence NMO-IgG binding efficacy and thus pathogenesis? 3) Does prior infection, genetic predisposition, or underlying immune dysregulation contribute to a confluence of events which lead to NMO in select individuals? A small animal model of NMO is essential to demonstrate whether AQP4 is indeed the incipient autoantigen capable of inducing NMO-IgG formation and NMO. If the NMO model is consistent with the human disease, it can be used to examine how changes in AQP4 expression and blood-brain barrier (BBB) integrity, both of which can be regulated by CNS inflammation, contribute to inductive events for anti-AQP4-specific immune response. In this review, we identify reagents and experimental questions that need to be developed and addressed to enhance our understanding of the pathogenesis of NMO. Finally, dysregulation of tolerance associated with autoimmune disease appears to have a role in NMO. Animal models would allow manipulation of hormone levels, B cell growth factors, and other elements known to increase the penetrance of autoimmune disease. Thus an AQP4 animal model would provide a means to manipulate events which are now associated with NMO and thus demonstrate what set of events or multiplicity of events can push the anti-AQP4 response to be pathogenic.