Study: Is NMOSD Linked to Antibody Exposure in Fetuses?

A recent study published in Science Translational Medicine has investigated a possible factor of the development of fetuses born to mothers with neuromyelitis optica spectrum disorder (NMOSD). Specifically, it looked into antibody exposure that occurs while a fetus is still growing inside its mother. It found that the blood brain barrier (BBB) can be impacted by the mother’s aquaporin-4 (AQP4) autoantibodies while the fetus is in utero. Interestingly enough, researchers observed these developmental changes only in male animal models, not females. Want to learn more? You can find the source article at Yahoo.


Before we can understand how NMOSD impacts developing fetuses, we should first understand what it is. This rare and chronic disorder impacts the optic nerve and spinal cord. Symptoms appear in episodes following by periods of remission, and they consist of:

  • Inflammation of the spinal cord and optic nerve
  • Pain in the eyes
  • Vision loss
    • This may affect just one or both eyes
  • Pain in the spine and/or limbs
  • Decreased control of the bowel and bladder
  • Paralysis in the lower limbs
  • Changes in deep tendon reflexes
  • Headaches
  • Sensory loss
  • Stiffness

NMOSD is an autoimmune condition, meaning that the immune system mistakenly attacks the body rather than foreign invaders or infections. Further research is needed to determine the exact cause. In terms of treatment, there are numerous FDA-approved options, including Enspryng, Soliris, Uplinza. Corticosteroids and plasma exchange will be administered during an attack as well.

About the Study

Titled “In utero exposure to maternal anti-aquaporin-4 antibodies alters brain vasculature and neural dynamics in male mouse offspring,” this study was conducted at the Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research. The researchers in charge of the study knew that AQP4 autoantibodies play an important role in NMOSD itself, but they didn’t know how they impact children born to mothers with this rare condition.

Utilizing mouse models, the researchers investigated how maternal autoantibodies can impact the BBB of developing fetuses. They found that they stopped the normal formation of the vascular system in the brain, and therefore, caused long-term cognitive and functional implications. However, these changes were only observed in male models, not female ones.

This research acts as the building blocks for future research, which will hopefully provide doctors with the ability to better assess pregnancies in their NMOSD patients. The next step is more research, this time in human children born to mothers with this rare autoimmune condition. Investigators will look into the long-term effects of the AQP4 antibody in human models.

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