Pathology of the motor-sensory axonal Guillain-Barré syndrome

Ann Neurol. 1996 Jan;39(1):17-28. doi: 10.1002/ana.410390105.


The concept of a severe motor-sensory neuropathy of acute onset caused by an immune attack on the axon ("axonal" Guillain-Barré syndrome) has been advanced primarily based on electrodiagnostic and limited pathological data, but remains controversial. At autopsy some cases demonstrate unusually severe inflammatory demyelinating neuropathy. There are conflicting data about whether antecedent Campylobacter jejuni infection is associated with "axonal" Guillain-Barré syndrome. We report 4 individuals from Hebei Province, China, who died 7, 7, 18, and 60 days after onset of a syndrome diagnosed clinically as Guillain-Barré syndrome. High titers of antibodies recognizing C. jejuni, consistent with recent infection, were found in the 2 patients tested. At autopsy the 3 with early disease had ongoing wallerian-like degeneration of fibers in the ventral and dorsal roots and in the peripheral nerves, with only minimal demyelination or lymphocytic infiltration. All 3 had numerous macrophages in the periaxonal space of myelinated internodes, and rare intraaxonal macrophages as well. Examination of the patient having the syndrome for 60 days confirmed the extensive loss of large fibers in the spinal roots and nerves, and the paucity of demyelination and remyelination. These observations confirm predictions that some patients with severe motor-sensory Guillain-Barré syndrome, as defined clinically, have predominantly axonal lesions of both motor and sensory fibers, even in the early stages of the disease, and that axonal Guillain-Barré syndrome can follow C. jejuni infection. The pathology supports the possibility that such cases of motor-sensory axonal Guillain-Barré syndrome represent the most severe end of a spectrum of immune attack directed toward epitopes on the axon.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Acute Disease
  • Adult
  • Autopsy
  • Axons / immunology*
  • Axons / pathology*
  • Campylobacter Infections / immunology*
  • Campylobacter Infections / pathology*
  • Campylobacter jejuni* / isolation & purification
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Polyradiculoneuropathy / immunology*
  • Polyradiculoneuropathy / microbiology
  • Polyradiculoneuropathy / pathology*
  • Prospective Studies