Paraneoplastic Antibodies

Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

This lesson briefly describe paraneoplastic syndrome. Then you'll learn about the concept of paraneoplastic antibodies, how they arise, and what they do in cases of cancer.

What Is Paraneoplastic Syndrome?

We all dread the word 'cancer' because we associate pain and difficult treatment due to a tumor. But tumor's aren't always the direct cause of cancer-related problems. Say you know someone who has lung cancer that has not spread anywhere outside of the lungs. Is it possible for them to suffer from serious neurological problems as a result? In fact, it is.

Paraneoplastic syndrome is a collection of signs and symptoms that signify paraneoplasia, a disturbance of the human body caused by a cancer's presence and stemming from one of two things:

  1. The production of some sort of substance by the cancer, like a hormone
  2. The body's immunological response to the cancer's presence

Paraneoplasia is NOT as a result of things like:

  • The cancer's invasion of its surrounding tissues
  • Metastasis (spread of the cancer's cells around the body)
  • Infection of the cancer
  • Treatment of the cancer

Antibodies

Your immune system is a collection of cells, tissues, organs, and proteins. They are the defense system of your body. And like a member of the U.S. Department of Defense, they swear an oath to defend you against all enemies foreign and domestic. Foreign enemies like viruses and bacteria, and domestic enemies like cancer cells.

The body's immune system produces proteins called antibodies that latch onto these enemies and either:

  • Destroy them directly, like bullets
  • Act as signaling markers for other cells to come and destroy them

If an antibody attaches itself to something, that something gets damaged or destroyed in one way or another.

Paraneoplastic Antibodies

In paraneoplastic syndrome something goes wrong, and no one knows for sure what or how. Antibodies can become paraneoplastic antibodies, or more technically paraneoplastic autoantibodies since these antibodies are directed against the self ('auto-'). Most of the time these autoantibodies attack the nervous system and are thus paraneoplastic antineural autoantibodies. 'Anti-' means against and '-neural' implies the nervous system.

One hypothesis for why this occurs goes something like this:

The cancer cells express a type of molecule called an antigen, or identifying marker that the immune system can recognize as foreign or self. It's like different colored shirts on different paintball teams. If it's foreign, the immune system (and antibodies) shoot it. If it's self (wearing the same colored shirt), the immune system leaves it alone.

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