Tumor necrosis factor-alpha antagonists and neuropathy

Muscle Nerve. 2008 Mar;37(3):281-92. doi: 10.1002/mus.20924.


Tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-alpha plays an important role in many aspects of immune system development, immune-response regulation, and T-cell-mediated tissue injury. The evidence that TNF-alpha, released by autoreactive T cells and macrophages, may contribute to the pathogenesis of immune-mediated demyelinating neuropathies is reviewed. TNF-alpha antagonists (infliximab, etanercept, adalimumab) are indicated for the treatment of advanced inflammatory rheumatic and bowel disease, but these drugs can induce a range of autoimmune diseases that also attack the central and peripheral nervous systems. Case histories and series report on the association between anti-TNF-alpha treatment and various disorders of peripheral nerve such as Guillain-Barré syndrome, Miller Fisher syndrome, chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy, multifocal motor neuropathy with conduction block, mononeuropathy multiplex, and axonal sensorimotor polyneuropathies. The proposed pathogeneses of TNF-alpha-associated neuropathies include both a T-cell and humoral immune attack against peripheral nerve myelin, vasculitis-induced nerve ischemia, and inhibition of signaling support for axons. Most neuropathies improve over a period of months by withdrawal of the TNF-alpha antagonist, with or without additional immune-modulating treatment. Preliminary observations suggest that TNF-alpha antagonists may be useful as an antigen-nonspecific treatment approach to immune-mediated neuropathies in patients with a poor response to, or intolerance of, standard therapies, but further studies are required.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Infective Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Humans
  • Models, Biological
  • Polyneuropathies / drug therapy*
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha / metabolism*


  • Anti-Infective Agents
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha