Clinical spectrum of stiff person syndrome: A review of recent reports

Harini Sarva, Andres Deik, Aman Ullah, William L. Severt

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

49 Scopus citations


Background: “Classic” stiff person syndrome (SPS) features stiffness, anti-glutamic acid decarboxylase (anti-GAD) antibodies, and other findings. Anti-GAD antibodies are also detected in some neurological syndromes (such as ataxia) in which stiffness is inconsistently present. Patients with otherwise “classic” SPS may either lack anti-GAD antibodies or be seropositive for others. Hence, SPS cases appear to fall within a clinical spectrum that includes conditions such as progressive encephalomyelitis with rigidity and myoclonus (PERM), which exhibits brainstem and autonomic features. We have compiled herein SPS-spectrum cases reported since 2010, and have segregated them on the basis of likely disease mechanism (autoimmune, paraneoplastic, or cryptogenic) for analysis. Methods: The phrases “stiff person syndrome”, “PERM”, “anti-GAD antibody syndrome”, and “glycine receptor antibody neurological disorders” were searched for in PubMed in January 2015. The results were narrowed to 72 citations after excluding non-English and duplicate reports. Clinical descriptions, laboratory data, management, and outcomes were categorized, tabulated, and analyzed. Results: Sixty-nine autoimmune, 19 paraneoplastic, and 13 cryptogenic SPS-spectrum cases were identified. SPS was the predominant diagnosis among the groups. Roughly two-thirds of autoimmune and paraneoplastic cases were female. Anti-GAD antibodies were most frequently identified, followed by antiamphiphysin among paraneoplastic cases and by anti-glycine receptor antibodies among autoimmune cases. Benzodiazepines were the most commonly used medications. Prognosis seemed best for cryptogenic cases; malignancy worsened that of paraneoplastic cases. Discussion: Grouping SPS-spectrum cases by pathophysiology provided insights into work-up, treatment, and prognosis. Ample phenotypic and serologic variations are present within the categories. Ruling out malignancy and autoimmunity is appropriate for suspected SPS-spectrum cases.

Original languageEnglish
JournalTremor and Other Hyperkinetic Movements
StatePublished - 4 Mar 2016


  • Anti-glutamic acid decarboxylase antibodies
  • Anti-glycine receptor antibodies
  • Progressive encephalomyelitis with rigidity and myoclonus
  • Stiff limb syndrome
  • Stiff person syndrome
  • Stiff trunk syndrome


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