Paraneoplastic neurological syndromes: a practical approach to diagnosis and management

Pract Neurol. 2022 Feb;22(1):19-31. doi: 10.1136/practneurol-2021-003073. Epub 2021 Sep 11.


Paraneoplastic neurological syndromes (PNS) are the immune-mediated effects of a remote cancer and are characterised by an autoantibody response against antigens expressed by the tumour. Classically, well-characterised 'onconeuronal' antibodies target intracellular antigens and hence cannot access their antigens across intact cell membranes. The pathogenic mediators are likely to be neuronal-specific T cells. There is a variable response to immunotherapies and the clinical syndrome helps to direct the search for a specific set of tumours. By contrast, many newly emerging autoantibodies with oncological associations target cell surface epitopes and can exert direct pathogenic effects on both the central and peripheral nervous systems. Patients with these cell-surface directed autoantibodies often clearly respond to immunotherapies. Overall, the clinical, serological and oncological features in an individual patient help to determine the clinical relevance of the syndrome and hence guide its management. We summarise current knowledge and a practical approach to the investigation, diagnosis, treatment and outcomes of patients with suspected PNS.

Keywords: clinical neurology; immunology; neuroimmunology; paraneoplastic syndrome; tumours.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Autoantibodies
  • Humans
  • Immunotherapy
  • Paraneoplastic Syndromes, Nervous System* / diagnosis
  • Paraneoplastic Syndromes, Nervous System* / therapy


  • Autoantibodies