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Neuromyelitis optica (NMO) is an inflammatory demyelinating disease of the CNS and affects women of childbearing age. Most patients with NMO have circulating Abs, termed NMO-IgG, against the astrocytic water channel protein aquaporin-4. In the CNS, NMO-IgG causes complement-mediated astrocyte damage, inflammatory cell infiltration, and myelin loss. In this study, we show that aquaporin-4 is expressed in the syncytiotrophoblast of human and mouse placenta. Placental aquaporin-4 expression is high during mid-gestation and progressively decreases with advancing pregnancy. Intraperitoneally injected NMO-IgG binds mouse placental aquaporin-4, activates coinjected human complement, and causes inflammatory cell infiltration into the placenta and placental necrosis. There was no damage to maternal organs that express aquaporin-4, including the brain, spinal cord, kidneys, and skeletal muscle. In control experiments, no placentitis was found in mice injected with NMO-IgG without complement, non-NMO-IgG with human complement, or in aquaporin-4 null mice injected with NMO-IgG and human complement. The infiltrating cells were primarily neutrophils with a few scattered eosinophils and macrophages. NMO-IgG and human complement-induced placentitis caused fetal death, but some fetuses were born normal when lower amounts of NMO-IgG and human complement were injected. Sivelestat, a neutrophil elastase inhibitor, and aquaporumab, a nonpathogenic IgG that competes with NMO-IgG for aquaporin-4 binding, significantly reduced NMO-IgG and human complement induced placentitis and fetal death. Our data suggest that NMO-IgG can cause miscarriage, thus challenging the concept that NMO affects only the CNS. These findings have implications for the management of NMO during pregnancy.

Original publication




Journal article


J Immunol

Publication Date





2999 - 3005


Animals, Aquaporin 4, Autoantibodies, Autoantigens, Female, Fetal Death, Humans, Immunoglobulin G, Inflammation, Mice, Mice, Knockout, Neuromyelitis Optica, Placenta Diseases, Pregnancy, Pregnancy Complications