Neuromyelitis optica (NMO) is an autoimmune demyelinating disease of the central nervous system in which binding of anti-aquaporin-4 (AQP4) autoantibodies (NMO-IgG) to astrocytes causes complement-dependent cytotoxicity (CDC) and inflammation resulting in oligodendrocyte and neuronal injury. There is compelling evidence for a central role of complement in NMO pathogenesis. Here, we evaluated the potential of C1-esterase inhibitor (C1-inh) for complement-targeted therapy of NMO. C1-inh is an anti-inflammatory plasma protein with serine protease inhibition activity that has a broad range of biological activities on the contact (kallikrein), coagulation, fibrinolytic and complement systems. C1-inh is approved for therapy of hereditary angioedema (HAE) and has been studied in a small safety trial in acute NMO relapses (NCT 01759602). In vitro assays of NMO-IgG-dependent CDC showed C1-inh inhibition of human and rat complement, but with predicted minimal complement inhibition activity at a dose of 2000 units in humans. Inhibition of complement by C1-inh was potentiated by ~10-fold by polysulfated macromolecules including heparin and dextran sulfate. In rats, intravenous C1-inh at a dose 30-fold greater than that approved to treat HAE inhibited serum complement activity by <5%, even when supplemented with heparin. Also, high-dose C1-inh did not reduce pathology in a rat model of NMO produced by intracerebral injection of NMO-IgG. Therefore, although C1r and C1s are targets of C1-inh, our in vitro data with human serum and in vivo data in rats suggest that the complement inhibition activity of C1-inh in serum is too low to confer clinical benefit in NMO.