How effective is stem cell transplantation for NMO?

Autologous nonmyeloablative hematopoietic stem cell transplantation for neuromyelitis optica. 

Burt RK, Balabanov R, Han X, et al.

Neurology 2019; 93:e1732-e1741.



To determine if autologous nonmyeloablative hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT) could be a salvage therapy for neuromyelitis optica spectrum disorder (NMOSD).


Thirteen patients were enrolled in a prospective open-label cohort study (11 NMOSD aquaporin-4-immunoglobulin G [AQP4-IgG]-positive, 1 NMOSD without AQP4, and 1 NMOSD AQP4-IgG-positive with neuropsychiatric systemic lupus erythematosus [SLE]). Following stem cell mobilization with cyclophosphamide (2 g/m2) and filgrastim, patients were treated with cyclophosphamide (200 mg/kg) divided as 50 mg/kg IV on day -5 to day -2, rATG (thymoglobulin) given IV at 0.5 mg/kg on day -5, 1 mg/kg on day -4, and 1.5 mg/kg on days -3, -2, and -1 (total dose 6 mg/kg), and rituximab 500 mg IV on days -6 and +1. Unselected peripheral blood stem cells were infused on day 0. AQP4-IgG antibody status was determined by Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments-validated ELISA or flow cytometry assays. Cell-killing activity was measured using a flow cytometry-based complement assay.


Median follow-up was 57 months. The patient with coexistent SLE died of complications of active lupus 10 months after HSCT. For the 12 patients with NMOSD without other active coexisting autoimmune diseases, 11 patients are more than 5 years post-transplant, and 80% are relapse-free off all immunosuppression (p < 0.001). At 1 and 5 years after HSCT, Expanded Disability Status Scale score improved from a baseline mean of 4.4 to 3.3 (p < 0.01) at 5 years. The Neurologic Rating Scale score improved after HSCT from a baseline mean of 69.5 to 85.7 at 5 years (p < 0.01). The Short Form-36 health survey for quality of life total score improved from mean 34.2 to 62.1 (p = 0.001) at 5 years. In the 11 patients whose baseline AQP4-IgG serostatus was positive, 9 patients became seronegative by the immunofluorescence or cell-binding assays available at the time; complement activating and cell-killing ability of patient serum was switched off in 6 of 7 patients with before and after HSCT testing. Two patients remained AQP4-IgG-seropositive (with persistent complement activating and cell-killing ability) and relapsed within 2 years of HSCT. No patient with seronegative conversion relapsed.


Prolonged drug-free remission with AQP4-IgG seroconversion to negative following nonmyeloablative autologous haematopoietic stem cell transplant warrants further investigation.

This paper is cited in the neurochecklist:

Neuromyelitis optica (NMO): treatment

By FnaqOwn work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link

Abstract link

By Ibrahim Imam

I am a UK Neurologist keen on general neurology, but with an interest in neuromuscular diseases. I maintain the neurology searchable database, I also blog at I share and discuss current issues around clinical neurology. I hope you find my blogs enlightening, practical, and even entertaining.

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