Neuromyelitis Optica Spectrum Disorder


West Florida


Brandon Regional Hospital

Document Type

Case Report

Publication Date



autoimmune neurological disease, brain anatomy, neurology and critical care; neuromyelitis optica spectrum disorder, wernicke's encephalopathy


Eye Diseases | Immune System Diseases | Medicine and Health Sciences | Neurology


Neuromyelitis optica spectrum disorder (NMOSD) is an autoimmune condition characterized by recurrent episodes of optic neuritis (ON) and transverse myelitis. This case report aims to highlight the importance of considering atypical presentations of NMOSD when confronted with MRI-detected Wernicke's encephalopathy. The primary target in NMOSD is the aquaporin-4 (AQP4) protein, predominantly located on astrocyte surfaces. Antibodies binding to AQP4 can lead to astrocyte dysfunction and damage, contributing to NMOSD's distinctive pathology. The associated immune response and inflammation can cause secondary harm to various components of the central nervous system, including oligodendrocytes and neuronal axons. This inflammatory process results in perivascular demyelination and axonal injury, further aggravating neurological deficits in NMOSD. In this case, we present a 39-year-old female with no prior medical or surgical history who sought medical attention due to a three-week history of progressive eyelid heaviness and somnolence. NMOSD is an autoimmune condition primarily targeting the AQP4 protein, resulting in recurrent ON and transverse myelitis. The patient was initially misdiagnosed with myasthenia gravis due to somnolence and ptosis. Due to concerns about myasthenia gravis due to diffuse fatigue and bilateral ptosis, the patient was initially treated with intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIG) and admitted to the neurology service. On the first day of her hospitalization, MRI with and without contrast revealed extensive, non-enhancing T2-weighted-fluid-attenuated inversion recovery (T2-FLAIR) hyperintensities surrounding the third ventricle and affecting the periaqueductal grey, medial thalami, and mammillary bodies. There was also an interval increase in T2-FLAIR hyperintensity within the right medial temporal lobe, extending more posteriorly and inferiorly, abutting the temporal horn. Subsequent CSF encephalitis panel results showed positive West Nile virus (WNV) IgG but negative WNV IgM, and AQP4 antibodies were positive. Given the high specificity of AQP4 antibodies, the patient was diagnosed with neuromyelitis optica (NMO) encephalitis. This case underscores the importance of considering atypical presentations of NMO when confronted with MRI-detected Wernicke's encephalopathy. Since our patient primarily displayed somnolence and eye-related symptoms, neither NMO nor Wernicke's encephalopathy were initially considered in the differential diagnosis. Furthermore, despite MRI findings suggestive of Wernicke's encephalopathy, it was considered less likely due to the absence of thiamine deficiency and consistent denials by family members regarding alcohol use, gastrointestinal issues, or inadequate oral intake. This case underscores the importance of considering NMOSD in patients with atypical symptoms, even when initial presentations suggest other conditions. Timely diagnosis is crucial to prevent mismanagement and improve patient outcomes. Clinicians should maintain a high level of suspicion for NMOSD, especially when MRI findings do not align with the initial diagnosis, as early recognition and treatment can significantly impact patient care and prognosis.

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