The purpose of this study was to evaluate the relationship between immunoglobulin M (IgM) antibodies penetration into myelinated peripheral nerve fibers and the widening of the peripheral myelin sheaths in anti-myelin-associated glycoprotein (anti-MAG) demyelinating IgM monoclonal polyneuropathy. Demyelinating polyneuropathy with monoclonal IgM is often associated with anti-MAG autoantibodies, which are thought to initiate the disease with IgM deposits usually present on the myelin sheaths. We analyzed nerve biopsies from 12 patients with an anti-MAG demyelinating neuropathy by confocal and electron microscopy. The total number of nerve fibers and the proportion of IgM-associated fibers were quantified after immunohistochemical staining. The affinities of IgM were examined by analyzing the binding pattern of serum IgM on normal peripheral nerve sections. Ultrastructural examinations of the biopsies showed a good correlation between in situ widened myelin sheaths and the IgM penetration level into myelinated fibers. The terminal complement complex appears not be involved in the penetration of IgM into the myelinated fibers. Our findings suggest a causative role of the IgM anti-MAG antibodies in the ultrastructural modifications of the myelin sheaths. The basement membrane and myelin components appear to be the major targets of the IgM monoclonal antibodies. However, the pathogenic mechanism whereby IgM antibodies reach their targets and induce nerve damage are still unclear.
Copyright 1999 John Wiley & Sons, Inc.