In 2007, a multifaceted syndrome, associated with anti-NMDA receptor autoantibodies (NMDAR-AB) of immunoglobulin-G isotype, has been described, which variably consists of psychosis, epilepsy, cognitive decline and extrapyramidal symptoms. Prevalence and significance of NMDAR-AB in complex neuropsychiatric disease versus health, however, have remained unclear. We tested sera of 2817 subjects (1325 healthy, 1081 schizophrenic, 263 Parkinson and 148 affective-disorder subjects) for presence of NMDAR-AB, conducted a genome-wide genetic association study, comparing AB carriers versus non-carriers, and assessed their influenza AB status. For mechanistic insight and documentation of AB functionality, in vivo experiments involving mice with deficient blood-brain barrier (ApoE(-/-)) and in vitro endocytosis assays in primary cortical neurons were performed. In 10.5% of subjects, NMDAR-AB (NR1 subunit) of any immunoglobulin isotype were detected, with no difference in seroprevalence, titer or in vitro functionality between patients and healthy controls. Administration of extracted human serum to mice influenced basal and MK-801-induced activity in the open field only in ApoE(-/-) mice injected with NMDAR-AB-positive serum but not in respective controls. Seropositive schizophrenic patients with a history of neurotrauma or birth complications, indicating an at least temporarily compromised blood-brain barrier, had more neurological abnormalities than seronegative patients with comparable history. A common genetic variant (rs524991, P=6.15E-08) as well as past influenza A (P=0.024) or B (P=0.006) infection were identified as predisposing factors for NMDAR-AB seropositivity. The >10% overall seroprevalence of NMDAR-AB of both healthy individuals and patients is unexpectedly high. Clinical significance, however, apparently depends on association with past or present perturbations of blood-brain barrier function.
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