Ion channels are complex transmembrane proteins that orchestrate the electrical signals necessary for normal function of excitable tissues, including the central nervous system, peripheral nerve, and both skeletal and cardiac muscle. Progress in molecular biology has allowed cloning and expression of genes that encode channel proteins, while comparable advances in biophysics, including patch-clamp electrophysiology and related techniques, have made the functional assessment of expressed proteins at the level of single channel molecules possible. The role of ion channel defects in the pathogenesis of numerous disorders has become increasingly apparent over the last two decades. Neurological channelopathies are frequently genetically determined but may also be acquired through autoimmune mechanisms. All of these autoimmune conditions can arise as paraneoplastic syndromes or independent from malignancies. The pathogenicity of autoantibodies to ion channels has been demonstrated in most of these conditions, and patients may respond well to immunotherapies that reduce the levels of the pathogenic autoantibodies. Autoimmune channelopathies may have a good prognosis, especially if diagnosed and treated early, and if they are non-paraneoplastic. This review focuses on clinical, pathophysiologic and therapeutic aspects of autoimmune ion channel disorders of the nervous system.
Keywords: Ion channels; Lambert-Eaton myasthenic syndrome; Morvan’s syndrome; autoimmunity; glutamate receptors; limbic encephalitis; neuromyotonia.; voltage gated potassium channels; voltage-gated calcium channels.