Background: Neuromyelitis optica (NMO) is an inflammatory disease caused by the aquaporin (AQP)-4-antibody. Pathological studies on NMO have revealed extensive astrocytic damage, as evidenced by the loss of AQP4 and glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP), specifically in perivascular regions with immunoglobulin and complement depositions, although other pathological patterns, such as a loss of AQP4 without astrocyte destruction and clasmatodendrosis, have also been observed. Previous studies have shown that complement-dependent antibody-mediated astrocyte lysis is likely a major pathomechanism in NMO. However, there are also data to suggest antibody-mediated astrocyte dysfunction in the absence of complement. Thus, the importance of complement inhibitory proteins in complement-dependent AQP4-antibody-mediated astrocyte lysis in NMO is unclear. In most of the previous studies, the complement and target cells (astrocytes or AQP4-transfected cells) were derived from different species; however, the complement inhibitory proteins that are expressed on the cell surface cannot protect themselves against complement-dependent cytolysis unless the complements and complement inhibitory proteins are from the same species. To resolve these issues, we studied human astrocytes in primary culture treated with AQP4-antibody in the presence or absence of human complement and examined the effect of complement inhibitory proteins using small interfering RNA (siRNA). Methods: Purified IgG (10 mg/mL) was obtained from 5 patients with AQP4-antibody-positive NMO, 3 patients with multiple sclerosis (MS), and 3 healthy controls. Confluent human astrocytes transfected with Venus-M1-AQP4-cDNA were incubated with IgG (5% volume). After washing, we cultured the cells with human complements with or without heat inactivation. We observed time-lapse morphological and immunohistochemical changes using a fluorescence microscope. We also evaluated cytotoxicity using a propidium iodide (PI) kit and the lactate dehydrogenase (LDH) assay. Result: AQP4-antibody alone caused clustering and degradation followed by endocytosis of membraneous AQP4, thereby resulting in decreased cellular adherence and the shrinkage of astrocytic processes. However, these changes were partially reversed by the removal of IgG in culture. In contrast, following the application of AQP4-antibody and non-heated human complements, the cell bodies and nuclei started to swell. At 3 h, most of the astrocytes had lost mobility and adherence and were eventually destroyed or had swollen and were then destroyed. In addition, the remaining adherent cells were mostly PI-positive, indicating necrosis. Astrocyte lysis caused by rabbit complement occurred much faster than did cell lysis with human complement. However, the cell lysis was significantly enhanced by the transfection of astrocytes with siRNA against human CD55 and CD59, which are major complement inhibitory proteins on the astrocyte membrane. AQP4-antibody-negative IgG in MS or control did not induce such changes. Conclusion: Taken together, these findings suggest that both complement-dependent and complement-independent AQP4-antibody-mediated astrocytopathies may operate in NMO, potentially contributing to diverse pathological patterns. Our results also suggest that the effect of complement inhibitory proteins should be considered when evaluating AQP4-antibody-mediated cytotoxicity in AQP4-expressing cells.
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