Molecular outcomes of neuromyelitis optica (NMO)-IgG binding to aquaporin-4 in astrocytes

Shannon R. Hinson, Michael F. Romero, Bogdan F.Gh Popescu, Claudia F. Lucchinetti, James P. Fryer, Hartwig Wolburg, Petra Fallier-Becker, Susan Noell, Vanda A. Lennon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

191 Scopus citations


The astrocytic aquaporin-4 (AQP4) water channel is the target of pathogenic antibodies in a spectrum of relapsing autoimmune inflammatory central nervous system disorders of varying severity that is unified by detection of the serum biomarker neuromyelitis optica (NMO)-IgG. Neuromyelitis optica is the most severe of these disorders. The two major AQP4 isoforms, M1 and M23, have identical extracellular residues. This report identifies two novel properties of NMO-IgG as determinants of pathogenicity. First, the binding of NMO-IgG to the ectodomain of astrocytic AQP4 has isoform-specific outcomes. M1 is completely internalized, but M23 resists internalization and is aggregated into larger-order orthogonal arrays of particles that activate complement more effectively than M1 when bound by NMO-IgG. Second, NMO-IgG binding to either isoform impairs water flux directly, independently of antigen down-regulation. We identified, in nondestructive central nervous system lesions of two NMO patients, two previously unappreciated histopathological correlates supporting the clinical relevance of our in vitro findings: (i) reactive astrocytes with persistent foci of surface AQP4 and (ii) vacuolation in adjacent myelin consistent with edema. The multiple molecular outcomes identified as a consequence of NMO-IgG interaction with AQP4 plausibly account for the diverse pathological features of NMO: edema, inflammation, demyelination, and necrosis. Differences in the nature and anatomical distribution of NMO lesions, and in the clinical and imaging manifestations of disease documented in pediatric and adult patients, may be influenced by regional and maturational differences in the ratio of M1 to M23 proteins in astrocytic membranes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1245-1250
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jan 24 2012


  • Antigenic modulation
  • Astrocytopathy
  • Autoimmunity
  • Demyelinating disease
  • Intramyelinic edema

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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