Neurologic autoimmune disorders in the context of systemic cancer reflect antitumor immune responses against onconeural proteins that are autoantigens in the nervous system. These responses observe basic principles of cancer immunity and are highly pertinent to oncological practice since the introduction of immune checkpoint inhibitor cancer therapy. The patient's autoantibody profile is consistent with the antigenic composition of the underlying malignancy. A major determinant of the pathogenic outcome is the anatomic and subcellular location of the autoantigen. IgGs targeting plasma membrane proteins (eg, muscle acetylcholine receptor -IgG in patients with paraneoplastic myasthenia gravis) have pathogenic potential. However, IgGs specific for intracellular antigens (eg, antineuronal nuclear antibody 1 [anti-Hu] associated with sensory neuronopathy and small cell lung cancer) are surrogate markers for CD8+ T lymphocytes targeting peptides derived from nuclear or cytoplasmic proteins. In an inflammatory milieu, those peptides translocate to neural plasma membranes as major histocompatibility complex class I protein complexes. Paraneoplastic neurologic autoimmunity can affect any level of the neuraxis and may be mistaken for cancer progression. Importantly, these disorders generally respond favorably to early-initiated immunotherapy and cancer treatment. Small cell lung cancer and thymoma are commonly associated with neurologic autoimmunity, but in the context of checkpoint inhibitor therapy, other malignancy associations are increasingly recognized.
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