To compare the efficacy and the risk of severe infectious events of immunosuppressive agents used early as first-line therapy in patients with neuromyelitis optica spectrum disorder (NMOSD).
We retrospectively included patients with NMOSD and a seropositive status for aquaporin 4 or myelin oligodendrocyte glycoprotein antibodies beginning first-line immunosuppressants within 3 years after the disease onset. The main outcome was occurrence of relapse after the initiation of immunosuppressants; the secondary outcome was the annual relapse rate (AAR).
A total of 136 patients were included: 62 (45.6%) were treated with rituximab (RTX), 42 (30.9%) with mycophenolate mofetil (MMF), and 23 (16.9%) with azathioprine (AZA). Compared with RTX-treated patients, the risk of relapse was higher among MMF-treated patients (hazard ratio [HR], 2.74 [1.17–6.40]; p = 0.020) after adjusting for age at disease onset, sex, antibody status, disease duration, ARR before treatment, corticosteroid intake, and relapse location. We did not observe any difference between RTX-treated and AZA-treated patients (HR, 2.13 [0.72–6.28]; p = 0.17). No interaction was found between the antibody status and immunosuppressive treatments. ARR was lower with RTX than with MMF (p = 0.039), but no difference was observed with AZA. We observed 9 serious infectious events with MMF, 6 with RTX, and none with AZA.
The use of first-line RTX in NMOSD appears more effective than MMF in suppressing clinical activity, independent of the antibody status.
Classification of evidence
That study provides Class III evidence that for patients with NMOSD, first-line RTX is superior to MMF to reduce the risk of relapse.