Background: Autoantibodies against the paranodal protein contactin-1 have recently been described in patients with severe acute-onset autoimmune neuropathies and mainly belong to the IgG4 subclass that does not activate complement. IgG3 anti-contactin-1 autoantibodies are rare, but have been detected during the acute onset of disease in some cases. There is evidence that anti-contactin-1 prevents adhesive interaction, and chronic exposure to anti-contactin-1 IgG4 leads to structural changes at the nodes accompanied by neuropathic symptoms. However, the pathomechanism of acute onset of disease and the pathogenic role of IgG3 anti-contactin-1 is largely unknown.
Methods: In the present study, we aimed to model acute autoantibody exposure by intraneural injection of IgG of patients with anti-contacin-1 autoantibodies to Lewis rats. Patient IgG obtained during acute onset of disease (IgG3 predominant) and IgG from the chronic phase of disease (IgG4 predominant) were studied in comparison.
Results: Conduction blocks were measured in rats injected with the "acute" IgG more often than after injection of "chronic" IgG (83.3% versus 35%) and proved to be reversible within a week after injection. Impaired nerve conduction was accompanied by motor deficits in rats after injection of the "acute" IgG but only minor structural changes of the nodes. Paranodal complement deposition was detected after injection of the "acute IgG". We did not detect any inflammatory infiltrates, arguing against an inflammatory cascade as cause of damage to the nerve. We also did not observe dispersion of paranodal proteins or sodium channels to the juxtaparanodes as seen in patients after chronic exposure to anti-contactin-1.
Conclusions: Our data suggest that anti-contactin-1 IgG3 induces an acute conduction block that is most probably mediated by autoantibody binding and subsequent complement deposition and may account for acute onset of disease in these patients. This supports the notion of anti-contactin-1-associated neuropathy as a paranodopathy with the nodes of Ranvier as the site of pathogenesis.
Keywords: Anti-contactin-1; Autoantibody; CIDP; Complement deposition; Paranodopathy; Passive transfer.