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Int J Immunopathol Pharmacol. 2004 May-Aug;17(2):135-44.

Immunological features of neurological paraneoplastic syndromes.

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Neuroimmunology Group, University of Liverpool, UK.


Neurological paraneoplastic syndromes are a rare group of disorders that occur in 1-2% of people with malignancy. They are usually caused by an immune response, triggered by and directed against a tumour, that cross-reacts with protein expressed by the peripheral or central nervous system. Any part of the nervous system can be affected and patients often develop severe and permanent disability. Diagnosis can be difficult as in two-thirds of patients the neurological problems appear up to 5 years before the tumour manifests. However, certain of these syndromes are often associated with specific serum autoantibodies that can be useful both in diagnosis of the neurological syndrome and in focusing the search for a particular tumour. Thus, these antibodies can allow earlier identification and treatment of cancer and, potentially, a reduction in morbidity and mortality. It was only in the 1980s that the first anti-neuronal autoantibodies were characterized and their associations with clinical syndromes and tumours defined. Further antibodies have been isolated over the past 20 years and novel pathogenic mechanisms for several syndromes have been recognized. For example, voltage-gate ion channels seem to be a common target for autoantibodies involved in peripheral nerve diseases such as the Lambert-Eaton myasthenic syndrome and neuromyotonia (Isaacs' syndrome). However, the place of most paraneoplastic antibodies in the pathogenesis of central syndromes is yet to be fully elucidated.

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