Background: Neuromyelitis optica spectrum disorder (NMOSD) is a clinically defined, inflammatory central nervous system (CNS) disease of unknown cause, associated with humoral autoimmune findings such as anti-aquaporin 4 (AQP4)-IgG. Recent clinical trials showed a benefit of anti-B cell and anti-complement-antibodies in NMOSD, suggesting relevance of anti-AQP4-IgG in disease pathogenesis.
Objective: AQP4-IgG in NMOSD is clearly defined, yet up to 40% of the patients are negative for AQP4-IgG. This may indicate that AQP4-IgG is not disease-driving in NMOSD or defines a distinct patient endotype.
Methods: We established a biobank of 63 clinically well-characterized NMOSD patients with an extensive annotation of 351 symptoms, patient characteristics, laboratory results and clinical scores. We used phylogenetic clustering, heatmaps, principal component and longitudinal causal interference analyses to test for the relevance of anti-AQP4-IgG.
Results: Anti-AQP4-IgG was undetectable in 29 (46%) of the 63 NMOSD patients. Within anti-AQP4-IgG-positive patients, anti-AQP4-IgG titers did not correlate with clinical disease activity. Comparing anti-AQP4-IgG-positive vs. -negative patients did not delineate any clinically defined subgroup. However, anti-AQP4-IgG positive patients had a significantly (p = 0.022) higher rate of additional autoimmune diagnoses.
Conclusion: Our results challenge the assumption that anti-AQP4-IgG alone plays a disease-driving role in NMOSD. Anti-AQP4-IgG might represent an epiphenomenon associated with NMOSD, may represent one of several immune mechanisms that collectively contribute to the pathogenesis of this disease or indeed, anti-AQP4-IgG might be the relevant factor in only a subgroup of patients.