Inflammatory demyelinating peripheral neuropathies associated with human T-cell lymphotropic virus type III infection

D R Cornblath, J C McArthur, P G Kennedy, A S Witte, J W Griffin
Annals of Neurology 1987, 21 (1): 32-40
Nine patients with inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathies (IDP) were found to have human T-cell lymphotropic virus type III (HTLV-III) infection. The 8 men, 6 of whom were homosexual, and 1 woman, a former intravenous drug user, presented with progressive weakness. Two had lymphadenopathy but all were otherwise asymptomatic. Six had chronic IDP and 3 had Guillain-Barré syndrome. In addition to an elevated cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) protein level (mean, 193 mg/dl), most patients had cerebrospinal fluid pleocytosis (mean, 23 cells/mm3), a distinctive feature. All had reduced T4:T8 T-cell ratios. Results of nerve conduction studies were characteristic of demyelination. Nerve biopsies revealed intense inflammatory cell infiltrates and macrophage-mediated demyelination. The patients recovered either spontaneously or following treatment with corticosteroids or plasmapheresis. During a mean interval of 20 months after presentation, only 1 patient had developed acquired immune deficiency syndrome. Patients with HTLV-III infection have disordered immune function, and the mechanism of the development of the IDP is likely to be immunopathogenic. As a result of our experience, we suggest that all patients with IDP be tested for evidence of HTLV-III infection. We also found, although in uncontrolled trials, that treatment with either prednisone or plasmapheresis was followed by clinical improvement; since plasmapheresis is not likely to further depress cell-mediated immunity, we suggest that it be the initial therapy.

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