Hope for patients with neuromyelitis optica spectrum disorders — from mechanisms to trials

Sean J. Pittock, Anastasia Zekeridou, Brian G. Weinshenker

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Neuromyelitis optica spectrum disorder (NMOSD) is a rare inflammatory CNS disease that primarily manifests as relapsing episodes of severe optic neuritis and myelitis. Diagnosis of NMOSD is supported by the detection of IgG autoantibodies that target the aquaporin 4 (AQP4) water channel, which, in the CNS, is an astrocyte-specific protein. AQP4 antibody binding leads to AQP4 internalization, complement-dependent and antibody-dependent cellular cytotoxicity, and water channel dysfunction. Cumulative attack-related injury causes disability in NMOSD, so the prevention of attacks is expected to prevent disability accrual. Until recently, no regulator-approved therapies were available for NMOSD. Traditional immunosuppressant therapies, including mycophenolate mofetil, azathioprine and rituximab, were widely used but their benefits have not been assessed in controlled studies. In 2019 and 2020, five phase II and III randomized placebo-controlled trials of four mechanism-based therapies for NMOSD were published and demonstrated that all four effectively prolonged the time to first relapse. All four drugs were monoclonal antibodies: the complement C5 antibody eculizumab, the IL-6 receptor antibody satralizumab, the B cell-depleting antibody inebilizumab, which targets CD19, and rituximab, which targets CD20. We review the pathophysiology of NMOSD, the rationale for the development of these mechanism-based drugs, the methodology and outcomes of the five trials, and the implications of these findings for the treatment of NMOSD.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)759-773
Number of pages15
JournalNature Reviews Neurology
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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