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The Gut Microbiome in Neuromyelitis Optica.


Neuromyelitis optica (NMO) is a rare, disabling, sometimes fatal central nervous system inflammatory demyelinating disease that is associated with antibodies ("NMO IgG") that target the water channel protein aquaporin-4 (AQP4) expressed on astrocytes. There is considerable interest in identifying environmental triggers that may elicit production of NMO IgG by AQP4-reactive B cells. Although NMO is considered principally a humoral autoimmune disease, antibodies of NMO IgG are IgG1, a T-cell-dependent immunoglobulin subclass, indicating that AQP4-reactive T cells have a pivotal role in NMO pathogenesis. When AQP4-specific proliferative T cells were first identified in patients with NMO it was discovered that T cells recognizing the dominant AQP4 T-cell epitope exhibited a T helper 17 (Th17) phenotype and displayed cross-reactivity to a homologous peptide sequence within a protein of Clostridium perfringens, a commensal bacterium found in human gut flora. The initial analysis of gut microbiota in NMO demonstrated that, in comparison to healthy controls (HC) and patients with multiple sclerosis, the microbiome of NMO is distinct. Remarkably, C. perfringens was the second most significantly enriched taxon in NMO, and among bacteria identified at the species level, C. perfringens was the one most highly associated with NMO. Those discoveries, along with evidence that certain Clostridia in the gut can regulate the balance between regulatory T cells and Th17 cells, indicate that gut microbiota, and possibly C. perfringens itself, could participate in NMO pathogenesis. Collectively, the evidence linking microbiota to humoral and cellular immunity in NMO underscores the importance for further investigating this relationship.

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