Stiff-person syndrome: autoimmunity and the central nervous system

CNS Spectr. 2001 May;6(5):427-33. doi: 10.1017/s1092852900021805.


Stiff-person syndrome (SPS) is a rare disease of severe progressive muscle stiffness in the spine and lower extremities with superimposed muscle spasms triggered by external stimuli. Patients with SPS are often referred for psychiatric evaluation and the psychiatrist may be the first to diagnosis SPS. Psychosocial stressors often precede the first manifestations of the disease; depression, anxiety, and alcohol abuse are comorbid illnesses. The identification of an association with antibodies to glutamic acid decarboxylase (GAD) was invaluable for definitively establishing a pathological basis for the disease; antibodies to amphiphysin and gephyrin are also found in cases of SPS but at much lower frequencies. Whether the antibodies inhibit GAD activity in vivo, target GAD-expressing neurons for immune-mediated destruction, are part of a wider immune process, or are merely a marker for destruction of GAD-expressing neurons by an independent neurodegenerative process is not yet clear. Both electromyography and the detection of GAD antibodies are useful in establishing a diagnosis of SPS. Treatment of SPS includes the use of immunomodulating therapies (plasmapheresis and intravenous immunoglobulins) and symptomatic treatment with benzodiazepines and baclofen. The use of tricyclic antidepressants and rapid withdrawal from therapy should be avoided.