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Intravenous immunoglobulin improves many antibody-mediated autoimmune disorders, but its mode of action is unknown. We investigated its effects on muscle strength and on the serum titer of the calcium-channel autoantibodies that are likely to be pathogenic in the Lambert-Eaton myasthenic syndrome (LEMS). In a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled crossover trial, serial indices of limb, respiratory, and bulbar muscle strength and the serum titer of calcium-channel antibodies in nine patients were compared over an 8-week period, using the area-under-the-curve approach, following infusion on two consecutive days of immunoglobulin at 1 g/kg body weight/day (total dose 2.0 g/kg body weight) or placebo (equivalent volume of 0.3% albumin). Calcium-channel antibodies were measured by radioimmunoassay using 125I-omega-conotoxin MVIIC. Direct anti-idiotypic actions of immunoglobulin were tested in this assay. Immunoglobulin infusion was followed by significant improvements in the three strength measures (p = 0.017 to 0.038) associated with a significant decline in serum calcium-channel antibody titers (p = 0.028). Improvement peaked at 2 to 4 weeks and was declining by 8 weeks. Mean serum titers were unchanged at 1 week, however, and direct anti-idiotypic neutralization by immunoglobulin was not demonstrable in vitro. We conclude that immunoglobulin causes a short-term improvement in muscle strength in LEMS that probably results from the induced reduction in calcium-channel autoantibodies. The reduction is not due to a direct neutralizing action of the immunoglobulin, but a delayed anti-idiotypic action cannot be excluded. Improvement following intravenous immunoglobulin in other autoantibody-mediated disorders may similarly be associated with decline in levels of pathogenic autoantibodies.


Journal article



Publication Date





678 - 683


Adolescent, Adult, Autoantibodies, Calcium Channels, Double-Blind Method, Electromyography, Female, Humans, Immunoglobulins, Intravenous, Lambert-Eaton Myasthenic Syndrome, Male, Middle Aged, Muscles, Time Factors