In central nervous system (CNS) demyelinating disorders, such as multiple sclerosis (MS), neuromyelitis optica (NMO) and related NMO-spectrum disorders (NMO-SD), a pathogenic role for antibodies is primarily projected into enhancing ongoing CNS inflammation by directly binding to target antigens within the CNS. This scenario is supported at least in part, by antibodies in conjunction with complement activation in the majority of MS lesions and by deposition of anti-aquaporin-4 (AQP-4) antibodies in areas of astrocyte loss in patients with classical NMO. A currently emerging subgroup of AQP-4 negative NMO-SD patients expresses antibodies against myelin oligodendrocyte glycoprotein (MOG), again suggestive of their direct binding to CNS myelin. However, both known entities of anti-CNS antibodies, anti-AQP-4- as well as anti-MOG antibodies, are predominantly found in the serum, which raises the questions why and how a humoral response against CNS antigens is raised in the periphery, and in a related manner, what pathogenic role these antibodies may exert outside the CNS. In this regard, recent experimental and clinical evidence suggests that peripheral CNS-specific antibodies may indirectly activate peripheral CNS-autoreactive T cells by opsonization of otherwise unrecognized traces of CNS antigen in peripheral compartments, presumably drained from the CNS by its newly recognized lymphatic system. In this review, we will summarize all currently available data on both possible roles of antibodies in CNS demyelinating disorders, first, directly enhancing damage within the CNS, and second, promoting a peripheral immune response against the CNS. By elaborating on the latter scenario, we will develop the hypothesis that peripheral CNS-recognizing antibodies may have a powerful role in initiating acute flares of CNS demyelinating disease and that these humoral responses may represent a therapeutic target in its own right.
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