Clinical features of neuromyelitis optica in a large Japanese cohort: comparison between phenotypes

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To analyse clinicoepidemiological features of neuromyelitis optica in a large cohort and to compare the differences between onset age, gender and clinical phenotypes.


Antiaquaporin-4 antibody (AQP4-ab) levels were tested in 2366 serum samples of patients diagnosed as having central nervous system inflammatory demyelinating disorders by their referring physicians. AQP4-ab was measured by indirect immunofluorescence staining using human AQP4-transfected HEK 293 cells. A blinded analysis was performed and was combined with clinical information.


A total of 583 patients (91.4% women) were AQP4-ab-positive. The average onset age was 42.9±15.9 years. According to MRI studies, spinal-cord lesions were detected in 85.3% of the patients, longitudinally extensive transverse myelitis in 72.7% and cerebral lesions in 51.1%. Unilateral or bilateral blindness was observed in 16.2% of patients, 19.8% were associated with Sjögren syndrome, and 13.6% were associated with thyroid diseases. Myelin basic protein was detected in the cerebrospinal fluid of 57.5% patients. In addition, men presented with an older onset age, a greater number of brainstem MRI lesions and positive myelin basic protein in the cerebrospinal fluid. All child-onset patients (<15 years, n=9) presented with optic neuritis as the first symptom, while older-onset patients presented with myelitis. Twenty patients initially developed limited brain lesions, and seven of these patients did not develop optic or spinal lesions during the 1–5-year follow-up period.


The clinical characteristics of AQP4-ab-positive patients were similar. However, optic neuritis was more common in paediatric patients, while myelitis was more common in older patients. A small number of patients exhibited only cerebral, brainstem, or cerebellar lesions during the initial several years and lower Extended Disability Status Scale scores.

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