Brain : a journal of neurology

Ma1, a novel neuron- and testis-specific protein, is recognized by the serum of patients with paraneoplastic neurological disorders.

PMID 10050892


The identification of antineuronal antibodies has facilitated the diagnosis of paraneoplastic neurological disorders and the early detection of the associated tumours. It has also led to the cloning of possibly important neuron-specific proteins. In this study we wanted to identify novel antineuronal antibodies in the sera of patients with paraneoplastic neurological disorders and to clone the corresponding antigens. Serological studies of 1705 sera from patients with suspected paraneoplastic neurological disorders resulted in the identification of four patients with antibodies that reacted with 37 and 40 kDa neuronal proteins (anti-Ma antibodies). Three patients had brainstem and cerebellar dysfunction, and one had dysphagia and motor weakness. Autopsy of two patients showed loss of Purkinje cells, Bergmann gliosis and deep cerebellar white matter inflammatory infiltrates. Extensive neuronal degeneration, gliosis and infiltrates mainly composed of CD8+ T cells were also found in the brainstem of one patient. In normal human and rat tissues, the anti-Ma antibodies reacted exclusively with neurons and with testicular germ cells; the reaction was mainly with subnuclear elements (including the nucleoli) and to a lesser degree the cytoplasm. Anti-Ma antibodies also reacted with the cancers (breast, colon and parotid) available from three anti-Ma patients, but not with 66 other tumours of varying histological types. Preincubation of tissues with any of the anti-Ma sera abrogated the reactivity of the other anti-Ma immunoglobulins. Probing of a human complementary DNA library with anti-Ma serum resulted in the cloning of a gene that encodes a novel 37 kDa protein (Mal). Recombinant Mal was specifically recognized by the four anti-Ma sera but not by 337 control sera, including those from 52 normal individuals, 179 cancer patients without paraneoplastic neurological symptoms, 96 patients with paraneoplastic syndromes and 10 patients with non-cancer-related neurological disorders. The expression of Mal mRNA is highly restricted to the brain and testis. Subsequent analysis suggested that Mal is likely to be a phosphoprotein. Our study demonstrates that some patients with paraneoplastic neurological disorders develop antibodies against Mal, a new member of an expanding family of 'brain/testis' proteins.