Autoantibodies against N-methyl-d-aspartate receptor 1 in health and disease

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Purpose of review

Humoral autoimmunity has gained highest interest in neurology and psychiatry. Despite numerous recent articles on this hot topic, however, the biological significance of natural autoantibodies (AB) and the normal autoimmune repertoire of mammals remained quite obscure. AB may contribute to disorder-relevant phenotypes and are even believed to induce diseases themselves, but the circumstances under which AB become pathogenic are not fully understood. This review will focus on the highly frequent AB against the N-methyl-d-aspartate receptor 1 (NMDAR1-AB) as an illustrating example and provide a critical overview of current work (please note that the new nomenclature, GluN1, is disregarded here for consistency with the AB literature). In particular, it will demonstrate how little is known at this point and how many conclusions are drawn based on small numbers of individuals, fragmentary experimental approaches or missing controls.

Recent findings

NMDAR1-AB were investigated by clinicians world-wide with numerous small studies and case reports appearing yearly. Many publications were on ‘anti-NMDAR encephalitis’ cases or tried to separate those from other NMDAR1-AB associated conditions. Original exclusivity claims (e.g. electroencephalogram, EEG or functional magnetic resonance imaging, fMRI findings) turned out not to be exclusive for ‘anti-NMDAR encephalitis’. Systematic analyses of representative NMDAR1-AB positive sera of all immunoglobulin (Ig) classes showed comparable distribution of different epitopes, often polyspecific/polyclonal, across health and disease. Sophisticated imaging tools provided findings on synapse trafficking changes induced by NMDAR1-AB from psychotic subjects but still lack epitope data to support any claimed disorder link. Persistently high titers of NMDAR1-AB (IgG) in immunized mice with open blood–brain barrier (BBB)-induced psychosis-like symptoms but failed to induce inflammation in the brain. Knowledge on peripheral NMDAR, for example in the immune system, and on potential inducers of NMDAR1-AB is only slowly increasing.


The present knowledge on the (patho) physiological role of NMDAR1-AB is very limited and still characterized by adamant rumors. Much more experimental work and more solid and informative clinical reports, including large numbers of subjects and adequate control groups, follow-up investigations and interdisciplinary approaches will be necessary to obtain a better understanding of the significance of humoral autoimmunity in general (in focus here: NMDAR1-AB) and its disease-relevance in particular.

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