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Neuronal nicotinic ACh receptor antibody in subacute autonomic neuropathy and cancer-related syndromes.

Neurology 1998 June
BACKGROUND: Autoantibodies specific for the acetylcholine receptor (AChR) of skeletal muscle (containing the alpha1 subunit) impair neuromuscular transmission in myasthenia gravis (MG). AChRs mediating fast synaptic transmission through autonomic ganglia are structurally similar to muscle AChR, but contain the alpha3 subunit. We propose that ganglionic AChR autoimmunity may cause dysautonomia.

OBJECTIVE: To test serum of patients with autonomic neuropathy for autoantibodies of neuronal ganglionic AChR specificity.

METHODS: We developed an immunoprecipitation radioassay by complexing epibatidine (125I-labeled high affinity agonist) to a Triton X-100-solubilized AChR antigen from peripheral neuroblastoma membranes. Monoclonal rat immunoglobulins (IgG) specific for muscle or neuronal AChRs validated the assay's specificity. We tested serum from 52 healthy subjects, 12 patients with subacute autonomic neuropathy, and 248 patients with other neurologic disorders.

RESULTS: Twelve patients had antibodies that bound unequivocally to ganglionic AChR. Five had subacute autonomic neuropathy, and three (of six tested) had Isaacs' syndrome; four of these eight had a carcinoma (lung, bladder, rectum, thyroid). The remaining four seropositive patients (two Lambert-Eaton syndrome, one dementia, one sensory neuronopathy) all had Ca2+ channel antibodies and three had small cell lung carcinoma. No healthy subject had ganglionic AChR antibodies, nor did 62 patients with MG and muscle AChR antibodies.

CONCLUSION: Neuronal AChR antibodies are a novel serologic marker of neurologic autoimmunity. The pathogenicity of neuronal AChR autoantibodies in autonomic neuropathy, Isaacs' syndrome, or other neurologic disorders remains to be shown, as has been demonstrated for muscle AChR antibodies in MG. An autoimmune and potentially paraneoplastic etiology is implicated in seropositive patients.

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