Lambert–Eaton myasthenic syndrome (LEMS): a rare autoimmune presynaptic disorder often associated with cancer

Benedikt Schoser, Bruno Eymard, Joe Datt, Renato Mantegazza

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Lambert–Eaton myasthenic syndrome (LEMS) is a rare autoimmune neuromuscular junction disorder that is related to the loss of functional P/Q-type voltage-gated calcium channels (VGCCs) on presynaptic nerve terminals. Up to 60% of cases occur as a paraneoplastic disorder (SCLC-LEMS), most commonly in association with small cell lung cancer. The remaining cases have an idiopathic non-tumor etiology but are associated with underlying autoimmune disease (NT-LEMS). Patients with LEMS invariably experience progressive proximal muscle weakness, often accompanied by general fatigue and autonomic symptoms. Some LEMS clinical symptoms overlap with those of other myasthenic syndromes, most commonly myasthenia gravis, which can contribute to misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis. Prognosis is related to the presence of cancer or autoimmune disease and the severity/distribution of muscle weakness. Cause of death in patients with SCLC-LEMS is typically tumor progression, whereas NT-LEMS does not reduce life expectancy. LEMS diagnosis is supported by a threefold approach: clinical features, electromyography, and anti-VGCC antibody serology. LEMS is a clinically important early indicator of possible cancer; therefore, a LEMS diagnosis should immediately prompt rigorous oncological screening and surveillance. Symptomatic treatment of LEMS typically involves medications that improve neurotransmission (e.g., the potassium channel blocker amifampridine [3,4-diaminopyridine]), with addition of immunosuppressants/modulators (e.g., prednisone plus azathioprine) in individuals with persistent symptoms. Where a tumor is identified, oncological treatment should take priority. It should be remembered, however, that LEMS has a significant impact on a patient’s quality of life and ability to perform daily activities, and therefore warrants timely diagnosis and appropriate treatment in and of itself.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1854-1863
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Neurology
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - Sep 1 2017


  • Autoimmunity
  • Lambert–Eaton myasthenic syndrome
  • Neuromuscular junction
  • Quality of life
  • Small cell lung carcinoma
  • Voltage-gated calcium channels

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology


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