Stiff-Man syndrome (SMS) is a rare disease of the central nervous system (CNS) characterized by progressive rigidity of the body musculature with superimposed painful spasms. An autoimmune origin of the disease has been proposed. In a caseload of more than 100 SMS patients, 60% were found positive for autoantibodies directed against the GABA-synthesizing enzyme glutamic acid decarboxylase (GAD). Few patients, all women affected by breast cancer, were negative for GAD autoantibodies but positive for autoantibodies directed against a 128-kD synaptic protein. We report here that this antigen is amphiphysin. GAD and amphiphysin are nonintrinsic membrane proteins that are concentrated in nerve terminals, where a pool of both proteins is associated with the cytoplasmic surface of synaptic vesicles. GAD and amphiphysin are the only two known targets of CNS autoimmunity with this distribution. This finding suggests a possible link between autoimmunity directed against cytoplasmic proteins associated with synaptic vesicles and SMS.

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