Autoantibodies to the glutamate receptor kill neurons via activation of the receptor ion channel

Mia Levite, Ilya A. Fleidervish, Andreas Schwarz, Dori Pelled, Anthony H. Futerman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

97 Scopus citations


Antibodies to the glutamate/AMPA receptor subunit 3 (GluR3), are found in a human epilepsy, Rasmussen's encephalitis [RE], and were hypothesized as the major cause for the neuronal loss, chronic inflammatory changes and epileptic seizures characteristic of the disease. To establish the pathogenic potential and mechanism of action of such antibodies, we raised murine antibodies against specific peptides of the GluR3 protein and studied their ability to bind, activate, and kill neurons. Mice were immunized with two GluR3 specific peptides: GluR3A (amino acids 245-274) and GluR3B (amino acids 372-395), and with a scrambled GluR3B peptide for control. High levels of antibodies to each of these peptides were obtained, with no cross reactivity between them. Antibodies to the GluR3B peptide were found to bind to cultured neurons, evoke GluR ion channel activity, and kill neurons. In contrast, antibodies against GluR3A peptide bound to neurons but failed to activate the receptor or kill neurons. Anti-scrambled-GluR3B antibodies had no effect. Both the activation of the GluRs and the neuronal death induced by anti- GluR3B antibodies were blocked by CNQX, a specific glutamate/AMPA receptor antagonist; killing was independent of complement. This indicates a mechanism of excitotoxicity-neuronal death due to over-activation of the receptor, a phenomenon known to be caused by excess of glutamate. Purified anti-GluR3B IgGs retained the neuronal killing capacity, and killing was completely and specifically blocked by preincubation with the GluR3B peptide. Excitotoxic neuronal death induced by anti-GluR3B antibodies took place primarily via apoptosis. Taken together, these results show that antibodies to a specific peptide of the GluR can kill neurons by an excitotoxic mechanism, thus mimicking the effects of excess of glutamate. This is the first example that antibodies can lead to neuronal death in a non-classical complement- independent manner, via activation of a membranal neurotransmitter receptor.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)61-72
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Autoimmunity
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Jan 1999


  • Autoimmunity
  • Excitotoxicity
  • Glutamate receptor
  • Rasmussen's encephalitis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology and Allergy
  • Immunology


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