Nodding syndrome is unlikely to be an autoimmune reaction to leiomodin-1 after infection by Onchocerca volvulus

Article Authors: Kenneth G. Kodjaa, Sylvester Onzivua, David L Kitara, Amanda Fongb, Patrick Kimb, Michael S Pollanen


Nodding syndrome is a neurological disease of children in northern Uganda. Infection with the nematode parasite Onchocerca volvulus has been epidemiologically implicated as the cause of the disease. It has been proposed that an autoantibody directed against the human protein leiomodin-1 cross reacts with a tropomyosin-like nematode protein, thus suggesting that nodding syndrome is an autoimmune brain disease due to extra-cerebral parasitism. This hypothesis is dependent on constitutive neuronal expression of leiomodin-1. We tested this hypothesis by studying the distribution of leiomodin-1 in the normal human brain and other human tissues using immunohistochemistry. We found that immunostaining for leiomodin-1 follows a smooth muscle cell specific pattern. In the brain, it is confined to the smooth muscle cells of cerebral blood vessels and is not generally present in neurons or glia. However, immunoreactivity was identified in human Purkinje cell membrane and the body wall of C. elegans (as a proxy for Onchocerca volvulus) but only when immunostained with an antibody recognizing the N-terminal of leiomodin-1. Homology between leiomodin-1 and tropomodulin, specifically at the N-terminus, could explain why leiomodin-1 antibody cross reactivity between human Purkinje cells and C. elegans. However, we cannot provide proof confirming that the immunoreactivity in the membranes of Purkinje cells is specifically caused by the expression of tropomodulin. To overcome this limitation, further investigations using additional immunohistochemical and biochemical studies are required to corroborate our findings and provide more comprehensive evidence. Nevertheless, our findings do not support to the autoimmunity hypothesis involving Onchocerca volvulus and leiomodin-1. To gain a more comprehensive understanding of the cause and pathogenesis of NS, it is essential to explore alternative hypotheses.

Bibliographical metadata

Journal Biochemistry and Biophysics Reports
Volume 35

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