Chronic pain as a manifestation of potassium channel-complex autoimmunity

Neurology. 2012 Sep 11;79(11):1136-44. doi: 10.1212/WNL.0b013e3182698cab. Epub 2012 Aug 15.


Objective: Autoantibodies targeting voltage-gated potassium channel (VGKC) complexes cause a spectrum of neuronal hyperexcitability disorders. We investigated pain as a manifestation of VGKC-complex autoimmunity.

Methods: We reviewed the prevalence and characteristics of pain in VGKC-complex-immunoglobulin G (IgG)-seropositive patients in 25 months of comprehensive service testing for neural autoantibodies, subtyped positive sera for LGI1-IgG and CASPR2-IgG specificities, and reviewed pain prevalence in autoimmune control patients.

Results: VGKC-complex-IgG was identified in 1,992 patients of 54,853 tested (4%). Of 316 evaluated neurologically at Mayo Clinic, 159 (50%) had pain, in isolation (28%) or with accompanying neurologic manifestations (72%), and not attributable to alternative cause. Pain was subacute in onset, chronic in course, neuropathic, nociceptive, regional, or diffuse and sometimes attributed to fibromyalgia (6%) or psychogenic cause (13%). Most patients had normal peripheral nervous system function, measured by neuropathy impairment scores and nerve conduction. Evidence of neuronal hyperexcitability (hyperhidrosis, quantitative heat-pain hyperalgesia, or electromyographic excitability) was 25-fold more common in pain patients. Pain management required multiple medications in 70% (narcotics, 30%); 13 of 16 patients reported pain relief with immunotherapy. Pain was significantly associated with CASPR2-IgG-positivity (16% positive with pain, 7% without pain; p = 0.014) but not with LGI1-IgG. Less than 10% of 167 patients with neural autoantibodies other than VGKC-complex-IgG reported pain.

Conclusions: Chronic idiopathic pain is a syndromic manifestation of VGKC-complex autoimmunity. Hyperexcitability of nociceptive pathways is implicated. CASPR2-IgG significantly associates with pain, but in most patients the antigenic VGKC-complex molecule remains to be determined. VGKC-complex autoimmunity represents an important new direction for pain research and therapy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Autoantibodies / immunology*
  • Autoimmune Diseases / complications*
  • Autoimmune Diseases / epidemiology
  • Autoimmune Diseases / immunology
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Chronic Pain / epidemiology
  • Chronic Pain / etiology*
  • Chronic Pain / immunology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immunoglobulin G / immunology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Potassium Channels, Voltage-Gated / immunology*
  • Prevalence


  • Autoantibodies
  • Immunoglobulin G
  • Potassium Channels, Voltage-Gated