Background: Endemic pemphigus foliaceus (EPF), is also known as "fogo selvagem" or "wild fire," reflecting the intense burning sensation of the skin reported by patients with this disease. Based on this finding, we tested for neural autoreactivity in patients affected by a new variant of EPF (El Bagre-EPF).
Methods: We tested 20 El Bagre-EPF patients, 20 normal controls from the endemic area, and 20 age- and sex-matched normal controls from outside the endemic area. We tested for autoreactivity to several immunoglobulins and complement. Both human skin and bovine tail were used as antigens.
Results: We detected autoreactivity to neural structures, mechanoreceptors, nerves, perineural cell layers of the arachnoid envelope around the optic nerve, brain structures, and to neuromuscular spindles; these structures colocalized with several neural markers. The patient antibodies also colocalized with desmoplakins 1 and 2, with the armadillo repeat protein deleted in velo-cardio-facial syndrome and with p0071 antibodies. Autoreactivity was also found associated with neurovascular bundles innervating the skin, and immunoelectron microscopy using protein A gold against patient antibodies was positive against the nerve axons. Paucicellularity of the intraepidermal nerve endings and defragmentation of the neural plexus were seen in 70% of the cases and not in the controls from the endemic area (p<0.005). Neuropsychological and/or behavioral symptoms were detected in individuals from the endemic area, including sensorimotor axonal neuropathy.
Conclusions: Our findings may explain for the first time the "pose of pemphigus," representing a dorsiflexural posture seen in EPF patients vis-a-vis the weakness of the extensor nerves, and furthermore, the autoreactivity to nerves in EPF could explain the "burning sensation" encountered in EPF disease.