Polyneuropathy with immunoglobulin M (IgM) monoclonal gammopathy is the most common paraproteinemic neuropathy, comprising a clinicopathologically and immunologically distinct entity. The clinical spectrum spans from distal paresthesias and mild gait imbalance to more severe sensory ataxia, with falls and a varying degree of distal sensorimotor deficits. In approximately 75% of patients, the monoclonal IgM immunoreacts with myelin-associated glycoprotein (MAG) and sulfoglucuronyl glycosphingolipid (SGPG), or other peripheral nerve glycolipids that serve as antigens. These antibodies are considered pathogenic because IgM and complement are deposited on the myelin sheath, splitting the myelin lamellae, while adoptive transfer of patients' IgM into susceptible host animals causes sensory ataxia and reproduces the human pathology. In spite of the apparently convincing pathogenicity of these antibodies, the response to immunotherapies remains suboptimal. Clorambuscil, cladibrine, cyclophospamide and intravenous immunoglobulin may help some patients but the benefits are minimal and transient. Open-label studies in >200 patients indicate that rituximab is helpful in 30-50% of these patients, even with long-term benefits, probably by suppressing IgM anti-MAG antibodies or inducing immunoregulatory T cells. Two controlled studies with rituximab did not however meet the primary endpoint, mostly because of the poor sensitivity of the scales used; they did however show statistical improvement in secondary endpoints and improved clinical functions in several patients. This review provides an overview of the clinical phenotypes and immunoreactivity of IgM to glycolipids or glycoproteins of peripheral nerve myelin, summarizes the progress on treatment with rituximab as a promising therapy, discusses the pitfalls of scales used, identifies possible biomarkers of response to therapy and highlights the promising new anti-B cell or target-specific immunotherapies.
Keywords: anti-B cell therapies; anti-MAG antibodies; autoimmune neuropathies; neuropathy with monoclonal gammopathy; polyneuropathy; rituximab.