Background: Recent studies suggest that paraneoplastic pemphigus (PNP) is a heterogeneous autoimmune syndrome involving several internal organs and that the pathophysiological mechanisms mediating cutaneous, mucosal, and internal lesions are not limited to autoantibodies targeting adhesion molecules.
Objective: To classify the diverse mucocutaneous and respiratory presentations of PNP and characterize the effectors of humoral and cellular autoimmunity mediating epithelial tissue damage.
Methods: We examined 3 patients manifesting the lichen planus pemphigoideslike subtype of PNP. A combination of standard immunohistochemical techniques, enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay with desmoglein (DSG) baculoproteins, and an immunoprecipitation assay were used to characterize effectors of humoral and cellular autoimmunity in patients with PNP and in neonatal wild-type and DSG3-knockout mice with PNP phenotype induced by passive transfer of patients' IgGs.
Results: In addition to the known "PNP antigenic complex," epithelial targets recognized by PNP antibodies included 240-, 150-, 130-, 95-, 80-, 70-, 66-, and 40/42-kd proteins but excluded DSG1 and DSG3. In addition to skin and the epithelium lining upper digestive and respiratory tract mucosa, deposits of autoantibodies were found in kidney, urinary bladder, and smooth as well as striated muscle. Autoreactive cellular cytotoxicity was mediated by CD8(+) cytotoxic T lymphocytes, CD56(+) natural killer cells, and CD68(+) monocytes/macrophages. Inducible nitric oxide synthase was visualized both in activated effectors of cellular cytotoxicity and their targets. Keratin 14-positive basal epithelial cells sloughed from the large airways and obstructed small airways.
Conclusions: The paraneoplastic disease of epithelial adhesion known as PNP in fact represents only 1 manifestation of a heterogeneous autoimmune syndrome in which patients, in addition to small airway occlusion and deposition of autoantibodies in different organs, may display a spectrum of at least 5 different clinical and immunopathological mucocutaneous variants (ie, pemphiguslike, pemphigoidlike, erythema multiforme-like, graft-vs-host disease-like, and lichen planus-like). We suggest that the more encompassing term "paraneoplastic autoimmune multiorgan syndrome," or PAMS, be applied. The pathophysiological mechanisms of PAMS involve both humoral and cellular autoimmunity responses. Epithelial cell membrane antigens other than DSG1 or DSG3 are targeted by effectors of PAMS autoimmunity. Apoptosis of damaged basal cells mediates epithelial clefting, and respiratory failure results possibly from obstruction of small airways with sloughed epithelial cells.