Physiology: Animal Function and Reproduction

Nervous System

What is Guillain-Barrè syndrome?

In the autoimmune disorder known as Guillain-Barrè syndrome, the body’s immune system attacks part of the peripheral nervous system. The immune system starts to destroy the myelin sheath that surrounds the axons of many peripheral nerves, or even the axons themselves. The myelin sheath surrounding the axons speeds up the transmission of nerve signals and allows the transmission of signals over long distances. But in diseases such as Guillain-Barrè, in which the peripheral nerves’ myelin sheaths are injured or degraded, the nerves cannot transmit signals efficiently. Consequently, muscles begin to lose their ability to respond to the brain’s commands, commands that must be carried through the nerve network. The brain also receives fewer sensory signals from the rest of the body, resulting in an inability to feel textures, heat, pain, and other sensations. Alternately, the brain may receive inappropriate signals that result in tingling, “crawling” skin or painful sensations. Because the signals to and from the arms and legs must travel the longest distances, these extremities are most vulnerable to interruption. Although painful in many respects, most patients recover from even the most severe cases of Guillain-Barrè syndrome, although some continue to have a certain degree of weakness.


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