Opsoclonus-myoclonus syndrome (OMS) is a paraneoplastic neurological disorder. It is characterized by associated ocular, motor, behavioral, sleep, and language disturbances. The onset is usually abrupt, often severe, and can become chronic.
The component features of OMS include repeated, rapid eye movements in both horizontal and vertical directions (opsoclonus); unsteady, gait (ataxia); brief, repeated, shock-like spasms of several muscles within the arms, legs (myoclonus). Extreme irritability, reduced and fragmented sleep, rage attacks, difficulty articulating speech (dysarthria), or inability to speak (mutism), and decreased muscle tone (hypotonia) are common.
When opsoclonus and myoclonus occur together, the cause is a tumor until proven otherwise. In approximately 50 percent of affected individuals, a tumor of embryonic nerve cells (neuroblastoma) is responsible for the symptoms associated with OMS. In other cases, the disorder has been attributed to a viral infection such as Coxsackie virus B3, or St. Louis encephalitis virus, however, the high rate of spontaneous tumor regression means that the tumor may be gone before it is looked for. Other causes are even rarer.
OMS is a rare disorder: 1 in a million individuals worldwide. It usually affects infants and young children, although it is also known to affect adults. The peak age in children is about 18 months, with a long tail out to about 5 – 6 years. Occurrence in infants under 6 months is very quite uncommon, and opsoclonus in that age group, when isolated, is usually from another cause. It occurs in males and females in fairly equal numbers. OMS occurs in about 3% of all children with neuroblastomas.
The diagnosis of opsoclonus-myoclonus is clinical; there is not diagnostic test yet, as the antigen remains unidentified. The presence of the “dancing eyes,” the shock-like muscle spasms, and the stumbling gait, especially if accompanied by irritability, are highly reliable indicators of this syndrome. To detect a tumor, both a CT scan of the neck, chest, abdomen, and pelvis (with oral and IV contrast), as well as an MIBG scan need to be done. In addition, special immunologic studies may be undertaken to determine the presence of abnormal white blood cells in the spinal fluid that are not detectable by routine studies, using a technique called immunophenotyping. Autoantibodies found in OMS may be detectable at research but not commercial laboratories.
The main tenet of treatment for OMS is early and sufficient immunotherapy with the goal of putting them into a durable complete neurological remission. If a tumor is present, surgery is typically required. The tumors are usually low stage (I or II) and tumor chemotherapy or radiation therapy are not indicated. Tumor resection does not usually provide sufficient clinical benefit for OMS, however. OMS treatment, which is usually continued over 1-2 years, should involve combined immunotherapies as soon as possible after diagnosis.
FLAIR therapy is a three-agent protocol involving front-loaded high-dose ACTH, IVIg, and rituximab that was developed by the National Pediatric Myoclonus Center, and has the best-documented outcomes. Almost all patients (80-90%) show improvement with this treatment. Over time, treatment with ACTH may have mostly cortisol-related adverse effects that must be monitored carefully. Pulse dose dexamethasone instead of ACTH is an option in milder cases. The use of prednisone-type oral steroids is not recommended, because they are the least effective of the steroids for OMS. Rituximab is a monoclonal antibody against B cells (anti-CD20). For OMS relapse, low-dose cyclophosphamide (3-6 cycles) or more rituximab (1-2 cycles) are given.
Almost all children with neuroblastoma and OMS survive their tumor, which usually does not behave aggressively, though some tumors may be large in size and pose difficulties for resection. In contrast, OMS is the main issue, and the OMS relapse rate in cases treated with only conventional agents is 50-75%. With FLAIR therapy, the relapse rate appears to be about 20%. OMS onset in the first year of life is particularly damaging to expressive speech and language development, and may result in a higher incidence of cognitive impairment. The best responders appear to be those who received early combination therapy and were only of mild to moderate severity. Failure to achieve complete neurological remission and multiple relapses (chronic-relapsing OMS) usually results in permanent deficits, such as ADD/ADHD, OCD, and cognitive impairment. Children in the chronic sick role can become oppositional, depressed, and aggressive.
Information on current clinical trials is posted on the Internet at www.clinicaltrials.gov. All studies receiving U.S. government funding, and some supported by private industry, are posted on this government web site.
For information about clinical trials being conducted at the NIH Clinical Center in Bethesda, MD, contact the NIH Patient Recruitment Office:
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Contact for additional information about opsoclonus-myoclonus syndrome:
Dr. Michael R. Pranzatelli
Director, National Pediatric Myoclonus Center
P.O. Box 19643
Springfield, IL 62794-9643
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NINDS Opsoclonus Myoclonus Information Page. NINDS/NIH. http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/opsoclonus_myoclonus/opsoclonus_myoclonus.htm. Last updated February 14, 2007. Accessed July 19, 2012.