Neuromyelitis optica

Neuromyelitis optica
Devic's disease
Classification and external resources
ICD-10 G36.0
ICD-9 341.0
DiseasesDB 29470
MeSH D009471

Neuromyelitis optica (NMO), also known as Devic's disease or Devic's syndrome, is an autoimmune, inflammatory disorder in which a person's own immune system attacks the optic nerves and spinal cord. This produces an inflammation of the optic nerve (optic neuritis) and the spinal cord (myelitis). Although inflammation may also affect the brain, the lesions are different from those observed in the related condition multiple sclerosis (MS).[1] Spinal cord lesions lead to varying degrees of weakness or paralysis in the legs or arms, loss of sensation (including blindness),[2] and/or bladder and bowel dysfunction.[3]

Devic's disease is a rare disorder which resembles MS in several ways, but requires a different course of treatment for optimal results.[3] NMO has also been suggested to be a variant form of acute disseminated encephalomyelitis.[4]. The likely target of the autoimmune attack at least in some patients with NMO has been identified; it is a protein of the nervous system cells called aquaporin 4.[5]



The main symptoms of Devic's disease are loss of vision and spinal cord function. As for other etiologies of optic neuritis, the visual impairment usually manifests as decreased visual acuity, although visual field defects, or loss of color vision may occur in isolation or prior to formal loss of acuity. Spinal cord dysfunction can lead to muscle weakness, reduced sensation, or loss of bladder and bowel control.[6] The typical patient has an acute and severe spastic weakness of the legs (paraparesis) or all four limbs (tetraparesis) with sensory signs, often accompanied by loss of bladder control.


Devic's disease is similar to MS in that the body's immune system attacks the myelin surrounding nerve cells. Unlike standard MS, the attacks are not believed to be mediated by the immune system's T cells but rather by antibodies called NMO-IgG, or simply NMO antibodies. These antibodies target a protein called aquaporin 4 in the cell membranes of astrocytes which acts as a channel for the transport of water across the cell membrane.[3] Aquaporin 4 is found in the processes of the astrocytes that surround the blood-brain barrier, a system responsible for preventing substances in the blood from crossing into the brain. The blood-brain barrier is weakened in Devic's disease, but it is currently unknown how the NMO-IgG immune response leads to demyelination.

Most research into the pathology of Devic's disease has focused on the spinal cord. The damage in the spinal cord can range from inflammatory demyelination to necrotic damage of the white and grey matter. The inflammatory lesions in Devic's disease have been classified as type II lesions (complement mediated demyelinization), but they differ from MS pattern II lesions in their prominent perivascular distribution. Therefore, the pattern of inflammation is often quite distinct from that seen in MS.[3][7]


The Mayo Clinic proposed a revised set of criteria for diagnosis of Devic's disease in 2006. The new guidelines for diagnosis require two absolute criteria plus at least two of three supportive criteria being:[8]

Absolute criteria:

  1. Optic neuritis
  2. Acute myelitis

Supportive criteria:

  1. Brain MRI not meeting criteria for MS at disease onset
  2. Spinal cord MRI with contiguous T2-weighted signal abnormality extending over 3 or more vertebral segments, indicating a relatively large lesion in the spinal cord
  3. NMO-IgG seropositive status. The NMO-IgG test checks the existence of antibodies against the aquaporin 4 antigen.


After the development of the NMO-IgG test, the spectrum of disorders that comprise Devic's disease was expanded. The Devic's disease spectrum is now believed to consist of:

  • Standard Devic's disease, according to the diagnostic criteria described above
  • Limited forms of Devic's disease, such as single or recurrent events of longitudinally extensive myelitis, and bilateral simultaneous or recurrent optic neuritis
  • Asian optic-spinal MS. This variant can present CNS involvement like MS[9]
  • Longitudinally extensive myelitis or optic neuritis associated with systemic auto-immune disease
  • Optic neuritis or myelitis associated with lesions in specific brain areas such as the hypothalamus, periventricular nucleus, and brainstem[10]

Whether Devic's disease is a distinct disease or part of the wide spectrum of multiple sclerosis is debated.[11] Devic's disease differs in that it usually has more severe sequelae after an acute episode than standard MS, MS infrequently presents as transverse myelitis, and oligoclonal bands in the CSF, as well as white matter lesions on brain MRI, are uncommon in Devic's disease but occur in over 90% of MS patients.[12]

Recently it has been found that antiviral immune response distinguishes standard multiple sclerosis and neuromyelitis optica,[13] but being MS an heterogeneous condition,[14] as hepatitis or diabetes are, it is still possible to consider NMO part of the MS spectrum.


Devic's disease has been associated with many systemic diseases, based on anecdoctal evidence of some Devic's disease patients with a comorbid condition. Such conditions include: collagen vascular diseases, autoantibody syndromes, infections with varicella-zoster virus, Epstein-Barr virus, and HIV, and exposure to clioquinol and antituberculosis drugs.[15]


Chemical structure of methylprednisolone. Methylprednisolone is used to treat attacks

Currently, there is no cure for Devic's disease, but symptoms can be treated. Some patients recover, but many are left with impairment of vision and limbs, which can be severe.


Attacks are treated with short courses of high dosage intravenous corticosteroids such as methylprednisolone IV. When attacks progress or do not respond to corticosteroid treatment, plasmapheresis can be an effective treatment.[10] Clinical trials for these treatments contain very small numbers, and most are uncontrolled.

Secondary prevention

No controlled trials have established the effectiveness of treatments for the prevention of attacks. Many clinicians agree that long term immunosuppression is required to reduce the frequency and severity of attacks, while others argue the exact opposite.[16] Commonly used immunosuppressant treatments include azathioprine (Imuran) plus prednisone, mycophenolate mofetil plus prednisone, Rituximab, Mitoxantrone, intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIG), and Cyclophosphamide.[10][17] The monoclonal antibody rituximab is under study.[18] In 2007, Devic's disease was reported to be responsive to glatiramer acetate[19] and to low-dose corticosteroids.[20]


Normally, there is some measure of improvement in a few weeks, but residual signs and disability may persist, sometimes severely.

The disease can be monophasic, i.e. a single episode with permanent remission. However, at least 85% of patients have a relapsing form of the disease with repeated attacks of transverse myelitis and/or optic neuritis. In patients with the monophasic form the transverse myelitis and optic neuritis occur simultaneously or within days of each other. On the other hand, patients with the relapsing form are more likely to have weeks or months between the initial attacks and to have better motor recovery after the initial transverse myelitis event. Relapses usually occur early with about 55% of patients having a relapse in the first year and 90% in the first 5 years.[3] Unlike multiple sclerosis, Devic's disease rarely has a secondary progressive phase in which patients have increasing neurologic decline between attacks without remission. Instead, disabilities arise from the acute attacks.[3]

Approximately 20% of patients with monophasic Devic's disease have permanent visual loss and 30% have permanent paralysis in one or more legs. Among patients with relapsing Devic's disease, 50% have paralysis or blindness within 5 years. In some patients (33% in one study), transverse myelitis in the cervical spinal cord resulted in respiratory failure and subsequent death. However, the spectrum of Devic's disease has widened due to improved diagnostic criteria, and the options for treatment have improved; as a result, researchers believe that these estimates will be lowered.[3]


The prevalence and incidence of Devic's disease has not been established partly because the disease is underrecognized and often confused with MS.[3] Devic's disease is more common in women than men, with women comprising over 2/3 of patients and more than 80% of those with the relapsing form of the disease.[3]

According to the Walton Centre in England, "NMO seems to be present across the world unlike MS, which has a higher incidence in temperate climates and white races. Africans and Asians especially in Far East may have a higher risk of NMO, although the exact incidence of this disease is unknown, making specific conclusions difficult". Although many people who have Devic's Disease were initially mis-diagnosed with MS, 35% of African Americans are often mis-diagnosed with MS when they really have Devic's Disease/NMO.

Devic's disease is more common in Asiatic people than Caucasians. In fact, Asian optic-spinal MS (which constitutes 30% of the cases of MS in Japan) has been suggested to be identical to Devic's disease(Differences between optic-spinal and classic MS in Japanese patients). In the indigenous populations of tropical and subtropical regions, MS is rare, but when it appears it often takes the form of optic-spinal MS.[21]

The majority of Devic's disease patients have no affected relatives, and it is generally regarded as a non-familial condition.[3]


Sir Thomas Clifford Allbutt first reported an association between myelitis and an optic nerve disorder

In 1870, Sir Thomas Clifford Allbutt first reported an association between myelitis and an optic nerve disorder. In 1894, Eugène Devic and his PhD. student Fernand Gault described 16 patients who had lost vision in one or both eyes and within weeks developed severe spastic weakness of the limbs, loss of sensation and often bladder control. They recognized that these symptoms were the result of inflammation of the optic nerve and spinal cord, respectively.[22][23]

Similar instances of optic neuritis and myelitis were reported, and many believed it constituted a distinct clinical entity. However, some patients had pathology in other parts of the brain, a feature which was more suggestive of acute disseminated encephalomyelitis (ADEM) or MS.

In 2004, Mayo Clinic researchers identified the aquaporin 4 protein as the target of the disease and developed a test to aid in the diagnosis of Devic's disease by detection of an antibody, NMO-IgG, in the blood.[5] Some patients with NMO may be seronegative for NMO-IgG whilst some patients with NMO-IgG may still not fulfill clinical criteria for NMO thus serological testing is now an important part of the diagnostic procedure and seropositive and seronegative cases are described in a manner similar to myasthenia gravis. According to the Mayo Clinic report, this was the first time that a molecular target had been identified for a type of demyelinating inflammatory disease.[24]

See also


  1. ^ Pittock SJ, Weinshenker BG, Lucchinetti CF, Wingerchuk DM, Corboy JR, Lennon VA (2006). "Neuromyelitis optica brain lesions localized at sites of high aquaporin 4 expression". Arch. Neurol. 63 (7): 964–968. doi:10.1001/archneur.63.7.964. PMID 16831965. 
  2. ^ "neuromyelitis optica" at Dorland's Medical Dictionary
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Wingerchuk, DM (2006). "Neuromyelitis optica". The International MS Journal 13: 42–50. PMID 16635421. 
  4. ^ Lennon VA, Wingerchuk DM, Kryzer TJ, et al. (2004). "A serum autoantibody marker of neuromyelitis optica: distinction from multiple sclerosis". Lancet 364 (9451): 2106–2112. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(04)17551-X. PMID 15589308. 
  5. ^ a b Lennon VA, Kryzer TJ, Pittock SJ, Verkman AS, Hinson SR (2005). "IgG marker of optic-spinal multiple sclerosis binds to the aquaporin-4 water channel". J. Exp. Med. 202 (4): 473–477. doi:10.1084/jem.20050304. PMC 2212860. PMID 16087714. 
  6. ^ Mayo Clinic. "Devic's Disease Symptoms". Archived from the original on 2008-01-02. Retrieved 2008-03-11. 
  7. ^ Lucchinetti CF, Mandler RN, McGavern D, et al. (2002). "A role for humoral mechanisms in the pathogenesis of Devic's neuromyelitis optica". Brain 125 (Pt 7): 1450–1461. doi:10.1093/brain/awf151. PMID 12076996. 
  8. ^ Wingerchuk DM, Lennon VA, Pittock SJ, Lucchinetti CF, Weinshenker BG (2006). "Revised diagnostic criteria for neuromyelitis optica". Neurology 66 (10): 1485–1489. doi:10.1212/01.wnl.0000216139.44259.74. PMID 16717206. 
  9. ^ Li Y, Xie P, Lv F, et al. (2008). "Brain magnetic resonance imaging abnormalities in neuromyelitis optica". Acta Neurol. Scand. 0: 080331054152017. doi:10.1111/j.1600-0404.2008.01012.x. PMID 18384459. 
  10. ^ a b c Wingerchuk, Dean (2006). "Neuromyelitis Optica (Devic's Syndrome)" (PDF). 2006 Rare Neuroimmunologic Disorders Symposium. Retrieved 2007-01-05. 
  11. ^ Pearce JM (2008). "Overview of MS: proposal of new MS definition/classification and review of the results of recent clinical trials" (abstract). Nippon Rinsho. PMID 18540351. 
  12. ^ Pearce JM (2005). "Neuromyelitis optica" (abstract). Spinal Cord 43 (11): 631–634. doi:10.1038/ PMID 15968305. 
  13. ^ Jarius S, Franciotta D, Bergamaschi R et al. (2008). "Polyspecific, antiviral immune response distinguishes multiple sclerosis and neuromyelitis optica". J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry. 79: 1134. doi:10.1136/jnnp.2007.133330. PMID 18270237. 
  14. ^ Hans Lassmann et al. Heterogeneity of multiple sclerosis pathogenesis: implications for diagnosis and therapy, Trends in Molecular Medicine, Volume 7, Issue 3, 1 March 2001, Pages 115-121, doi:10.1016/S1471-4914(00)01909-2
  15. ^ Cree BA, Goodin DS, Hauser SL (2002). "Neuromyelitis optica". Seminars in neurology 22 (2): 105–122. doi:10.1055/s-2002-36534. PMID 12524556. 
  16. ^ Poser CM, Brinar VV (2007). "Disseminated encephalomyelitis and multiple sclerosis: two different diseases – a critical review". Acta Neurol. Scand. 116 (4): 201–206. doi:10.1111/j.1600-0404.2007.00902.x. PMID 17824894. 
  17. ^ Weinstock-Guttman B, Ramanathan M, Lincoff N, et al. (2006). "Study of mitoxantrone for the treatment of recurrent neuromyelitis optica (Devic disease)". Arch. Neurol. 63 (7): 957–963. doi:10.1001/archneur.63.7.957. PMID 16831964. 
  18. ^ Matiello M, Jacob A, Wingerchuk DM, Weinshenker BG (2007). "Neuromyelitis optica". Curr. Opin. Neurol. 20 (3): 255–260. doi:10.1097/WCO.0b013e32814f1c6b. PMID 17495617. 
  19. ^ Gartzen K, Limmroth V, Putzki N (2007). "Relapsing neuromyelitis optica responsive to glatiramer acetate treatment". Eur. J. Neurol. 14 (6): e12–3. doi:10.1111/j.1468-1331.2007.01807.x. PMID 17539924. 
  20. ^ Watanabe S, Misu T, Miyazawa I, et al. (2007). "Low-dose corticosteroids reduce relapses in neuromyelitis optica: a retrospective analysis". Multiple Sclerosis 13: 968. doi:10.1177/1352458507077189. PMID 17623727. 
  21. ^ Cabre P, Signate A, Olindo S, et al. (2005). "Role of return migration in the emergence of multiple sclerosis in the French West Indies". Brain 128 (Pt 12): 2899–2910. doi:10.1093/brain/awh624. PMID 16183661. 
  22. ^ Devic E (1894). "Myélite subaiguë compliquée de névrite optique" (in French). Bull Med 8: 1033. 
  23. ^ T. Jock Murray (2005). Multiple Sclerosis: The History of a Disease. New York: Demos Medical Publishing. ISBN 1-888799-80-3. 
  24. ^ "Devic's Disease Research – Mayo Clinic". Retrieved 2007-11-22. 

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