Progressive demyelinating polyneuropathy after hematopoietic cell transplantation in metachromatic leukodystrophy: a case series

Shanice Beerepoot, Jaap Jan Boelens, Caroline Lindemans, Moniek A. de Witte, Stefan Nierkens, Alexander F. J. E. Vrancken, Marjo S. van der Knaap, Marianna Bugiani, Nicole I. Wolf

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Metachromatic leukodystrophy (MLD) is a neuro-metabolic disorder due to arylsulfatase A deficiency, causing demyelination of the central and peripheral nervous system. Hematopoietic cell transplantation (HCT) can provide a symptomatic and survival benefit for pre-symptomatic and early symptomatic patients by stabilizing CNS disease. This case series, however, illustrates the occurrence of severely progressive polyneuropathy shortly after HCT in two patients with late-infantile, one with late-juvenile, and one with adult MLD, leading to the inability to walk or sit without support. The patients had demyelinating polyneuropathy before HCT, performed at the ages of 2 years in the first two patients and at 14 and 23 years in the other two patients. The myeloablative conditioning regimen consisted of busulfan, fludarabine and, in one case, rituximab, with anti-thymocyte globulin, cyclosporine, steroids, and/or mycophenolate mofetil for GvHD prophylaxis. Polyneuropathy after HCT progressed parallel with tapering immunosuppression and paralleled bouts of infection and graft-versus-host disease (GvHD). Differential diagnoses included MLD progression, neurological GvHD or another (auto)inflammatory cause. Laboratory, electroneurography and pathology investigations were inconclusive. In two patients, treatment with immunomodulatory drugs led to temporary improvement, but not sustained stabilization of polyneuropathy. One patient showed recovery to pre-HCT functioning, except for a Holmes-like tremor, for which a peripheral origin cannot be excluded. One patient showed marginal response to immunosuppressive treatment and died ten months after HCT due to respiratory failure. The extensive diagnostic and therapeutic attempts highlight the challenge of characterizing and treating progressive polyneuropathy in patients with MLD shortly after HCT. We advise to consider repeat electro-neurography and possibly peripheral nerve biopsy in such patients. Nerve conduction blocks, evidence of the presence of T lymphocytes and macrophages in the neuronal and surrounding nerve tissue, and beneficial effects of immunomodulatory drugs may indicate a partially (auto)immune-mediated pathology. Polyneuropathy may cause major residual disease burden after HCT. MLD patients with progressive polyneuropathy could potentially benefit from a more intensified immunomodulatory drug regime following HCT, especially at times of immune activation.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of neurology
Early online date2024
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 2024


  • ARSA gene mutation
  • Demyelinating polyneuropathy
  • Hematopoietic cell transplantation
  • Immune-mediated demyelinating disease
  • Lysosomal storage disorder
  • Metachromatic leukodystrophy

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