Forty cases of polyneuropathy associated with IgM monoclonal gammopathy were retrospectively studied to investigate the relevance of clinical and electrophysiological features to M-protein antibody activity. There were 26 men and 14 women; mean age was 65 +/- 11.7 years at the time of the study. Thirty-nine patients had a symmetrical polyneuropathy, of whom 13 had a predominantly sensory and 17 a purely sensory neuropathy (i.e., 30 sensory neuropathies). The remaining patient had a multifocal mononeuropathy. Electrophysiological studies allowed the polyneuropathies to be classified as demyelinating in 33 cases (82.5%) and axonal in 6 cases. Antibody studies disclosed anti-MAG antibodies in 65% and anti-SGPG antibodies in 82.5% of patients. Anti-MAG antibodies were associated with only demyelinating polyneuropathies. Anti-SGPG antibodies were found in 91% of demyelinating polyneuropathies and 50% of axonopathies. In addition, anti-MAG/SGPG antibody activity was significantly correlated with the subgroup of sensory neuropathies (P < 0.01). Last, antisulfatide antibodies were found at significant titers in 18 cases, and their presence was significantly correlated with anti-MAG/SGPG antibody activity, but not with some clinical/electrophysiological features.