Diseases and Disorders

Guillain-Barré Syndrome and Acute Canine Polyradiculoneuritis

Felissa Wallace


Over the past few decades, scientists have discovered that canines can suffer from some of the same diseases as humans. The discovery of this phenomenon has led to the connection that human diseases that appear in canines could be treated with the same human treatment regimen. The same is true of neurological conditions that appear in both humans and canines. One such condition is called Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) in humans and idiopathic polyradiculoneuritis or acute canine polyradiculoneuritis (ACP) in canines. Both conditions are caused by the immune system targeting gangliosides. Even though both conditions are comparable, the treatment for the condition differs between species due to a lack of canine plasma. Within the past decade, there has been an increase in canine blood banks that could lead to treatment for ACP to be the same as GBS’s treatment.

GBS Background

Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) is a non-contagious, rare neurological condition that results from an immune response to an infection that mistakenly targets nerve tissue through a production of antigens. GBS has fewer than 20,000 cases a year in the US [1]. Cases occur in both sexes but it occurs  more frequently in men; GBS can occur at any age, but mostly occurs in people who are older than 50 [1]. This rare condition is caused by a variety of common things, such as influenza or food poisoning. 


Causes of GBS (Autoimmune)

Although the exact cause of all cases of GBS is unknown, in most cases, the immune system attacks the myelin sheath (an insulating layer made up of proteins and fatty tissue that surrounds nerves and axons) and damages it [Figure 1] [2]. The immune system’s attack on the myelin sheath may also damage the axon (also called nerve fibers; their function is to transmit electrical signals from one neuron to another neuron) that is surrounded by the myelin sheath [3]. Damage to the axon makes the nerve unable to transmit signals to the muscles from the brain [1]. 


Causes of GBS (Infection)

In other cases of GBS, researchers found that GBS is caused by the immune system producing antibodies that target the peripheral nervous system—the network of nerves located outside of the brain and spinal cord [1]. More specifically, the immune system targets gangliosides, which are sialic acid-containing glycosphingolipids that cover cell membranes and contribute to cell differentiation in nerve bodies and axons located in the peripheral nervous system [5]. The immune system produces antibodies to target gangliosides because immune cells mistake the gangliosides cell membrane markers as the markers on the antibody. The markers on the pathogen help the immune system identify the pathogen as a foreign object that needs to be removed. A study has found that glycosphingolipids that make up gangliosides, are mostly found in the peripheral nerves and extraneural tissue and play a role in the development and signalling of muscles [6]. 


Symptoms of GBS and Treatment

The targeting of gangliosides by the immune system, causes the symptoms of GBS–which begins with a tingling or numbing of the limbs and progresses into muscle weakness and, in rare cases, paralysis. Most people with this condition recover within a range of a few weeks to a few years, but patients who recover continue to suffer from permanent nerve damage [7]. GBS is commonly treated with plasma exchange or immunoglobulin therapy. 


Background ACP

Idiopathic polyradiculoneuritis or acute canine polyradiculoneuritis (ACP) is a condition that develops when a canine’s immune system attacks nerves, causing weakness of the back legs, and then it quickly moves to the front legs, causing a crouched gait and potentially leading to paralysis. Similar to GBS, ACP can be triggered by a variety of things but is most commonly caused by an infection due to a raccoon bite [8]. This condition rarely occurs once a dog has been vaccinated. 


Causes of ACP

In ACP the immune system targets ganglions, and leads to symptoms similar to GBS such as loss of muscle function and loss of nerve function. ACP also leads to inflammation which affects the motor nerves (the group of nerves that activate the muscles). Researchers hypothesize that some cases of ACP, can be caused by the infection of the immune system attacking bacteria that have chemicals on its surface that resemble gangliosides on nerve bodies surface [9]. 


Treatments and effects of ACP

Most cases of ACP are treated using supportive care that includes physical therapy and nutritional support because canine treatment for autoimmune conditions are not as advanced as a treatment for autoimmune conditions in humans [8]. Most dogs with ACP recover within a few weeks or months but continue to suffer from lasting nerve damage, similar to people who recover from GBS. Severely infected dogs may be able to move or lift their head and have a sensitivity to touch or possible respiratory failure [8]. Although both ACP and GBS are autoimmune conditions, researchers have found that immunosuppressants do not help to improve GBS and advise against treating GBS with immunosuppressants. This information was used to advise against treating ACP with immunosuppressants, even though there is no research on treating ACP with immunosuppressants [8].


Similarities and Connections

Although there is currently more research on GBS than ACP, researchers can use findings from GBS to further ACP treatment and understanding. Current ACP treatment could be improved by replicating or creating similar treatment based on GBS treatment. Not only do humans and dogs have similar immune systems, but veterinarians base treatment for ACP on research studies about treatment for GBS. Studies have found that “when comparing rodents’ and dogs’ immune systems to humans, canines’ immune system development shares more similarities to humans’ immune systems than rodents” [10]. Despite the fact that veterinarians base treatment regimens for ACP on the currently available treatments for GBS, veterinarians cannot replicate all of the treatments because the resources needed are not as readily accessible for canines as they are for humans. For example, the first canine blood banks were not established until 2010 [11]. After canine blood banks were established, months later plasma transfusions treatment capabilities for canines became a possible treatment method. [11]. Veterinarians can use the relatively new plasma therapy for canines to treat ACP, especially as plasma therapy is an effective treatment for GBS. They can even further separate the plasma to create immunoglobulin therapy for canines. 



Although there is no cure for GBS or any treatment for anti-ganglioside antibodies, current treatments for GBS can be used to create an improved treatment for ACP. This possible improvement in ACP treatment could help further neurological research and studies that explore neurological diseases that appear in both dogs and humans. By using human treatments for human diseases that appear in canines, veterinary medicine could be revolutionized.​​​​​​​


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  2. (9/4/202). Myelin. National Library of Medicine. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002261.htm. Retrieved 28/4/2020.

  3. (9/11/2017). Axons: the cable transmission of neurons. The University of Queensland. https://qbi.uq.edu.au/brain/brain -anatomy/axons-cable-transmission-neurons. Retrieved 28/4/2020.

  4. (15/1/2020). Guillain-Barré Syndrome. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/guillain-barre-syndrome/symptoms-causes/syc-20362793. Retrieved 18/4/2020.

  5. Yu, R. K., Tsai, Y. T., Ariga, T., & Yanagisawa, M. (2011). Structures, biosynthesis, and functions of gangliosides—An overview. Journal of Oleo Science. https://www.ncbi.nlm. nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3684167/. Retrieved 21/4/2020.

  6. Gouni-Berthold, I., Seul, C., Ko, Y., Hescheler, J., Sachinidis, A. (1/11/2001). Gangliosides GM1 and GM2 Induce Vascular Smooth Muscle Cell Proliferation via Extracellular Signal-Regulated Kinase 1/2 Pathway. Journal of the American Heart Association. https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/full/10.1161/ hy1101.093104. Retrieved 12/4/2020.

  7. (20/1#/2019). Guillain-Barré syndrome. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/campylobacter /guillain-barre.htm. Retrieved 10/4/2020.

  8. Downing, Robin. (2015). Coonhound Paralysis. Veterinary Centers of America. https://vcahospitals.com/know-your -pet/coonhound-paralysis. Retrieved 2/4/2020.

  9. Herndon, A. M., Thompson, A. T., Mack, C. (6/8/2018). Diagnosis and Treatment of Lower Motor Neuron Disease in Australian Dogs and Cats. Journal of veterinary medicine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6106963/#sec2title. Retrieved 29/3/2020.

  10. Felsburg, P. J. (1/9/2002). Overview of immune system development in the dog: comparison with human. DescriptionHuman & Experimental Toxicology. https://journals. sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1191/0960327102ht286oa. Retrieved 6/4/2020.

  11. (18/11/2011). Canine Blood Donation. American Kennel Club Canine Health Foundation. http://www.akcchf.org/educational -resources/library/articles/articles/canine-blood-donation.html. Retrieved 20/4/2020.

Felissa Wallace

Felissa Wallace

I am a student in Cincinnati. Currently my main focus is mental health but I still enjoy learning anything involving the brain. I am an intern for the National Alliance on Mental Illness and I am a member of the Youth Council for Suicide Prevent which is run by 1N5 and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital.