PURPOSE OF REVIEW - Peripheral neuropathy is a common neurotoxic effect of medications. When medications are used to treat life-threatening illnesses, balancing the toxic effects of peripheral neuropathy with the therapeutic benefits of the drug can be difficult. This article examines recent research into the cellular mechanisms associated with neuropathy after treatment with medications to treat cancer, and HIV, and to prevent transplant rejection.
RECENT FINDINGS - Cisplatin and suramin induce a length, dose, and time-dependent axonal sensorimotor polyneuropathy. Cisplatin and suramin both result in apoptosis in dorsal root ganglion neurons that may partially explain the neuropathy that develops with treatment. In contrast, nerve growth factor prevents initiation of the programmed cell death associated with cisplatin neurotoxicity. Suramin causes accumulation of lamellar inclusion bodies in dorsal root ganglion neurons related to dose of administration and severity of the neuropathy. Nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors affect mitochondrial function and lead to depletion of the nerve's mitochondrial DNA and inhibition of DNA polymerase. These effects on the mitochondrion may be related to the polyneuropathy that develops in these patients. In contrast to the axonal neuropathies, tacrolimus and rarely suramin can result in a demyelinating neuropathy that may mimic Guillain-Barré syndrome or chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy. Many of these neuropathies can be reversed by early recognition of the symptoms or by using sensitive electrophysiological testing. In certain instances, specific therapies may ameliorate the neuropathy. Glutamine may reduce paclitaxel-induced toxicity, while some patients with tacrolimus or suramin-induced demyelinating neuropathy may respond to intravenous immunoglobulin or plasmapheresis.
SUMMARY - Improved understanding of neurotoxic mechanisms in the peripheral nervous system associated with chemotherapeutic and anti-HIV medications, coupled with early improved diagnosis, promises to help limit neurotoxicity associated with these medications.