A rapidly expanding and clinically distinct group of CNS diseases are caused by pathogenic autoantibodies that target neuroglial surface proteins. Despite immunotherapy, patients with these neuroglial surface autoantibody (NSAb)-mediated diseases often experience clinical relapse, high rates of long-term morbidity and adverse effects from the available medications. Fundamentally, the autoantigen-specific B cell lineage leads to production of the pathogenic autoantibodies. These autoantigen-specific B cells have been consistently identified in the circulation of patients with NSAb-mediated diseases, accompanied by high serum levels of autoantigen-specific antibodies. Early evidence suggests that these cells evade well-characterized B cell tolerance checkpoints. Nearer to the site of pathology, cerebrospinal fluid from patients with NSAb-mediated diseases contains high levels of autoantigen-specific B cells that are likely to account for the intrathecal synthesis of these autoantibodies. The characteristics of their immunoglobulin genes offer insights into the underlying immunobiology. In this Review, we summarize the emerging knowledge of B cells across the NSAb-mediated diseases. We review the evidence for the relative contributions of germinal centres and long-lived plasma cells as sources of autoantibodies, discuss data that indicate migration of B cells into the CNS and summarize insights into the underlying B cell pathogenesis that are provided by therapeutic effects.
Nat Rev Neurol