Immune reactivity to the enzyme glutamic acid decarboxylase (GAD), a pancreatic islet autoantigen, is present at the diagnosis of insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (IDDM). Because GAD is also highly expressed in the nervous system, we investigated the presence of autoantibodies to the isoform GAD65 in patients with diabetic neuropathy, which is a debilitating complication of the disease. We studied 39 patients with autonomic and somatic neuropathy, 28 patients matched for age and IDDM duration, and 13 patients with a shorter duration of IDDM, all with no diabetic complications, as well as 50 recently diagnosed diabetic patients, 23 neurologic patients with idiopathic autonomic failure unrelated to IDDM, and 72 healthy subjects. An immunoprecipitation radioligand assay was used to detect anti-GAD65 autoantibodies with in vitro transcribed and translated human islet GAD65 as antigen. Autoantibodies to GAD65 were present in 56% of the diabetic patients with neuropathy, 57% of the long-duration and 69% of the short-duration diabetic control subjects, 78% of the recently diagnosed patients, and 13% of the nondiabetic neuropathic patients. Among the diabetic patients with neuropathy, there was no correlation between the presence of anti-GAD65 antibodies and the presence of autoantibodies to sympathetic ganglia, vagus nerve, or adrenal medulla structures identified by immunofluorescence. Our study shows that anti-GAD65 antibodies are present in a high proportion of patients with diabetic neuropathy but are not exclusively associated with it, rendering it unlikely that they have a role as a disease marker or that they are pathogenetic. Our findings also show that humoral autoimmunity to GAD65 is a major feature of diabetes of long duration (up to 52 years), although the source of the persistent stimulus for this reaction and its significance remain to be established.

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