Guillain-Barré syndrome consists of at least four subtypes of acute peripheral neuropathy. Major advances have been made in understanding the mechanisms of some of the subtypes. The histological appearance of the acute inflammatory demyelinating polyradiculoneuropathy (AIDP) subtype resembles experimental autoimmune neuritis, which is predominantly caused by T cells directed against peptides from the myelin proteins P0, P2, and PMP22. The role of T-cell-mediated immunity in AIDP remains unclear and there is evidence for the involvement of antibodies and complement. Strong evidence now exists that axonal subtypes of Guillain-Barré syndrome, acute motor axonal neuropathy (AMAN), and acute motor and sensory axonal neuropathy (AMSAN), are caused by antibodies to gangliosides on the axolemma that target macrophages to invade the axon at the node of Ranvier. About a quarter of patients with Guillain-Barré syndrome have had a recent Campylobacter jejuni infection, and axonal forms of the disease are especially common in these people. The lipo-oligosaccharide from the C jejuni bacterial wall contains ganglioside-like structures and its injection into rabbits induces a neuropathy that resembles acute motor axonal neuropathy. Antibodies to GM1, GM1b, GD1a, and GalNac-GD1a are in particular implicated in acute motor axonal neuropathy and, with the exception of GalNacGD1a, in acute motor and sensory axonal neuropathy. The Fisher's syndrome subtype is especially associated with antibodies to GQ1b, and similar cross-reactivity with ganglioside structures in the wall of C jejuni has been discovered. Anti-GQ1b antibodies have been shown to damage the motor nerve terminal in vitro by a complement-mediated mechanism. Results of international randomised trials have shown equivalent efficacy of both plasma exchange and intravenous immunoglobulin, but not corticosteroids, in hastening recovery from Guillain-Barré syndrome. Further research is needed to discover treatments to prevent 20% of patients from being left with persistent and significant disability.
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