Guillain-Barré Syndrome

Mayo Clin Proc. 2017 Mar;92(3):467-479. doi: 10.1016/j.mayocp.2016.12.002.


Guillain-Barré syndrome is an acute inflammatory immune-mediated polyradiculoneuropathy presenting typically with tingling, progressive weakness, and pain. Variants and formes frustes may complicate recognition. The best known variant is the sensory ataxic form of Miller Fisher syndrome, which also affects the oculomotor nerves and the brain stem. Divergent pathologic mechanisms lead to demyelinating, axonal, or mixed demyelinating-axonal damage. In the demyelinating form, yet to be identified antigens are inferred by complement activation, myelin destruction, and macrophage-activated cleanup. In the axonal and Miller Fisher variants, gangliosides (GM1, GD1a, GQ1b) are targeted by immunoglobulins and share antigenic epitopes with some bacterial and viral antigens. Campylobacter jejuni infection is associated with an axonal-onset variant; affected patients commonly experience more rapid deterioration. Many other antecedent infectious agents have been recognized including the most recently identified, Zika virus. Supportive care remains the mainstay of therapy. Plasma exchange or intravenous immunoglobin hastens recovery. Combination immunotherapy is not more effective, and the efficacy of prolonged immunotherapy is unproven. One in 3 patients will have deterioration severe enough to require prolonged intensive care monitoring or mechanical ventilation. Full recovery is often seen; most patients regain ambulation, even in severe cases, but disability remains in up to 10% and perhaps more. Numerous challenges remain including early identification and control of infectious triggers, improved access of modern neurointensive care worldwide, and translating our understanding of pathogenesis into meaningful preventive or assistive therapies. This review provides a historical perspective at the centenary of the first description of the syndrome, insights into its pathogenesis, triage, initial immunotherapy, and management in the intensive care unit.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Intravenous
  • Bacterial Infections / complications
  • Cerebrospinal Fluid / microbiology
  • Critical Care / economics
  • Critical Care / methods
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Guillain-Barre Syndrome* / etiology
  • Guillain-Barre Syndrome* / history
  • Guillain-Barre Syndrome* / physiopathology
  • Guillain-Barre Syndrome* / therapy
  • History, 20th Century
  • History, 21st Century
  • Humans
  • Immunoglobulins / administration & dosage
  • Immunoglobulins / therapeutic use
  • Plasma Exchange / methods
  • Virus Diseases / complications
  • Zika Virus Infection / complications


  • Immunoglobulins