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Acta Neuropathol. 2011 Sep;122(3):343-52. doi: 10.1007/s00401-011-0837-8. Epub 2011 May 28.

Vasculitis-like neuropathy in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis unresponsive to treatment.

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Department of Neurology, University of Würzburg, Josef-Schneider-Str. 11, 97080, Würzburg, Germany.


Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a fatal motor neuron disease with variable involvement of other systems. A pathogenetic role of immune-mediated mechanisms has been suggested. We retrospectively analyzed sural nerve pathology and the clinical course in 18 patients with ALS. These patients had undergone sural nerve biopsy because of clinical or neurophysiological signs indicating sensory involvement (ALS+). Eleven of the 18 ALS+ patients had inflammatory cell infiltrates (ALS(vasc)) resembling infiltrates seen in patients with vasculitic neuropathy. Data were compared with the 7 patients without vasculitic infiltrates (ALS(nonvasc)) and with those of 16 patients with isolated peripheral nerve vasculitis (NP(vasc)). Biopsy specimens were processed with standard histological stains and with immunohistochemistry for a panel of inflammatory markers, with the hypothesis that the composition of infiltrates should differ between ALS(vasc) and NP(vasc). Immunoreactive cells were quantified in a blinded manner. Unlike patients with NP(vasc), those with ALS(vasc) had only minor neurophysiological abnormalities in the sural nerve and, except for the infiltrates, almost normal nerve morphology on semithin sections. The difference in epineurial T cell count was significant between ALS(vasc) and ALS(nonvasc) (p = 0.031). Surprisingly, the cellular composition of epineurial infiltrates in sural nerve biopsies was indistinguishable between ALS(vasc) and NP(vasc) despite a significant difference in fiber pathology (p < 0.0001). Standard immunosuppressive treatment did not prevent clinical progression of the motor neuron disease in any of the patients with ALS(vasc). ALS(vasc) appears as a neuropathological subtype in ALS+ suggesting immune-mediated disease components but without response to standard immunosuppressive treatment.

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