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Open Access Research article

Association between neuromyelitis optica and tuberculosis in a Chinese population

Rui Li, Xiaonan Zhong, Wei Qiu, Aimin Wu, Yongqiang Dai, Zhengqi Lu and Xueqiang Hu*

Author Affiliations

Multiple Sclerosis Center, Department of Neurology, The Third Affiliated Hospital of Sun Yat-Sen University, No. 600 Tianhe Road, Guangzhou, Guangdong Province 510630, China

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BMC Neurology 2014, 14:33  doi:10.1186/1471-2377-14-33

Published: 20 February 2014



A number of reports have described the presence of tuberculosis (TB) in neuromyelitis optica (NMO) patients. However, a definite association between the two conditions has not been conclusively demonstrated.


To investigate the association between NMO and TB in a Chinese population, we performed a retrospective review of hospital records of NMO patients, control patients and tuberculosis meningitis (TBM) patients from January 1, 1995 to December 31, 2011.


The frequency of preceding/simultaneous active pulmonary TB (PTB) was not significantly different between NMO patients (1.1%) and control groups (2.3% in myasthenia gravis, 1.1% in polymyositis or dermatomyositis, zero in idiopathic facial palsy and viral meningitis/meningoencephalitis). NMO cases differed from TBM cases in terms of demographics, course (recurrent or monophasic), cerebrospinal fluid analysis and magnetic resonance images. Two TBM patients shared partial clinical features with NMO (one of the TBM patients had a longitudinal extensive spinal cord lesion involving the holocord, and the other had optic neuritis before anti-tuberculosis treatment). NMO antibodies were only detected in NMO patients and not in TBM patients with myelitis or optic neuritis.


We could not confirm previous suggestions of the association between PTB and NMO. Direct infection of the central nervous system by TB may mimic NMO in some respects, but whether NMO-like symptoms that develop during the course of TB should be considered and diagnosed as NMO is open to discussion.

Neuromyelitis optica; Tuberculosis; NMO-IgG