Background: T-cell infiltrates in sural nerve biopsy specimens of patients with inflammatory neuropathies have been reported, suggesting a role for T cells in the pathogenesis, but the specificity of the presence and localization of sural nerve T cells in chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy (CIDP) is unknown.
Objective: To study the diagnostic value of the number and distribution of sural nerve T cells in CIDP.
Methods: We performed a quantitative immunohistochemical examination of T cells in sural nerve biopsy specimens taken from 23 patients with a CIDP and compared them with sural nerves of 15 patients with a chronic idiopathic axonal polyneuropathy (CIAP), 5 patients with a vasculitic neuropathy, and 10 normal controls.
Results: T cells were found in sural nerves of all CIDP patients as well as in all disease and normal controls. Only six CIDP patients had increased numbers and densities of T cells compared with CIAP patients and controls. Based on the distribution of endoneurial or epineurial T cells, it was not possible to differentiate CIDP patients from CIAP patients or normal controls. In patients and controls perivascular epineurial T cells predominated. Increased numbers and densities of sural nerve T cells in patients with CIDP were associated with female sex, a more severe disease course, worse outcome, highly elevated CSF protein level, and a larger sural nerve area, but not with loss of myelinated nerve fibers in the sural nerve biopsy sample or demyelinating features on electrophysiologic examination.
Conclusions: In the majority of CIDP patients, the number and distribution of T cells in sural nerve biopsy samples were similar to patients with noninflammatory neuropathies and normal controls. Only large numbers of sural nerve T cells are specific for inflammatory neuropathies and therefore of diagnostic value for CIDP.