Intravenous immunoglobulin for multifocal motor neuropathy

Review question

We reviewed the evidence about the effect of intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIg) and subcutaneous immunoglobulin (SCIg) in people with multifocal motor neuropathy (MMN). Immunoglobulin is a preparation of antibodies with no specific target purified from the blood and is usually given into a vein (intravenous immunoglobulin; IVIg); however, infusions under the skin (SCIg) might be an alternative.


MMN is a rare condition that causes weakness of the limbs, which tends to worsen over time. The arms, especially the hands, are more often involved than the legs. The usual treatment for MMN is IVIg.

Study characteristics

We searched widely for studies on this topic and found six small trials involving a total of 90 people with MMN who received IVIg treatment. Three studies had limitations, and there was not enough information about the remaining studies to permit a full assessment. Five trials compared an infusion (slow injection) of IVIg with a dummy infusion. The remaining trial compared two different administration routes: IVIg infusion versus SCIg infusion. The effects were measured between 4 and 12 weeks after treatment. Two trials involved employees of an immunoglobulin manufacturer as authors. One of these studies, which was also sponsored by the manufacturer, underwent independent manuscript review by experts with full data access.

Key results and certainty of the evidence

IVIg may improve strength in people with MMN. IVIg may also improve disability, but we need further research to confirm or rule out an effect, as this evidence is less certain. The evidence for whether more people experience side effects on IVIg than with a dummy infusion is uncertain. There was only one serious side effect (pulmonary embolism) during IVIg treatment. Most people with MMN need ongoing immunoglobulin treatment, as disability and muscle strength probably deteriorate with immunoglobulin withdrawal. We need more evidence on whether SCIg might be an alternative to IVIg.

The evidence is current to April 2021.

Authors' conclusions: 

Low-certainty evidence from three small RCTs shows that IVIg may improve muscle strength in people with MMN, and low-certainty evidence indicates that it may improve disability; the estimate of the magnitude of improvement of disability has wide CIs and needs further studies to secure its significance. Based on moderate-certainty evidence, it is probable that most IVIg responders deteriorate in disability and muscle strength after IVIg withdrawal. SCIg might be an alternative treatment to IVIg, but the evidence is very uncertain. More research is needed to identify people in whom IVIg withdrawal is possible and to confirm efficacy of SCIg as an alternative maintenance treatment.

Read the full abstract...

Multifocal motor neuropathy (MMN) is a rare, probably immune-mediated disorder characterised by slowly progressive, asymmetric, distal weakness of one or more limbs with no objective loss of sensation. It may cause prolonged periods of disability. Treatment options for MMN are few. People with MMN do not usually respond to steroids or plasma exchange. Uncontrolled studies have suggested a beneficial effect of intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIg). This is an update of a Cochrane Review first published in 2005, with an amendment in 2007. We updated the review to incorporate new evidence.


To assess the efficacy and safety of intravenous and subcutaneous immunoglobulin in people with MMN.

Search strategy: 

We searched the following databases on 20 April 2021: the Cochrane Neuromuscular Specialised Register, CENTRAL, MEDLINE, Embase,, and WHO ICTRP for randomised controlled trials (RCTs) and quasi-RCTs, and checked the reference lists of included studies.

Selection criteria: 

We considered RCTs and quasi-RCTs examining the effects of any dose of IVIg and subcutaneous immunoglobulin (SCIg) in people with definite or probable MMN for inclusion in the review. Eligible studies had to have measured at least one of the following outcomes: disability, muscle strength, or electrophysiological conduction block. We used studies that reported the frequency of adverse effects to assess safety.

Data collection and analysis: 

Two review authors independently reviewed the literature searches to identify potentially relevant trials, assessed risk of bias of included studies, and extracted data. We followed standard Cochrane methodology.

Main results: 

Six cross-over RCTs including a total of 90 participants were suitable for inclusion in the review. Five RCTs compared IVIg to placebo, and one compared IVIg to SCIg. Four of the trials comparing IVIg versus placebo involved IVIg-naive participants (induction treatment). In the other two trials, participants were known IVIg responders receiving maintencance IVIg at baseline and were then randomised to maintenance treatment with IVIg or placebo in one trial, and IVIg or SCIg in the other. Risk of bias was variable in the included studies, with three studies at high risk of bias in at least one risk of bias domain.

IVIg versus placebo (induction treatment): three RCTs including IVIg-naive participants reported a disability measure. Disability improved in seven out of 18 (39%) participants after IVIg treatment and in two out of 18 (11%) participants after placebo (risk ratio (RR) 3.00, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.89 to 10.12; 3 RCTs, 18 participants; low-certainty evidence). The proportion of participants with an improvement in disability at 12 months was not reported. Strength improved in 21 out of 27 (78%) IVIg-naive participants treated with IVIg and one out of 27 (4%) participants who received placebo (RR 11.00, 95% CI 2.86 to 42.25; 3 RCTs, 27 participants; low-certainty evidence). IVIg treatment may increase the proportion of people with resolution of at least one conduction block; however, the results were also consistent with no effect (RR 7.00, 95% CI 0.95 to 51.70; 4 RCTs, 28 participants; low-certainty evidence).

IVIg versus placebo (maintenance treatment): a trial that included participants on maintenance IVIg treatment reported an increase in disability in 17 out of 42 (40%) people switching to placebo and seven out of 42 (17%) remaining on IVIg (RR 2.43, 95% CI 1.13 to 5.24; 1 RCT, 42 participants; moderate-certainty evidence) and a decrease in grip strength in 20 out of 42 (48%) participants after a switch to placebo treatment compared to four out of 42 (10%) remaining on IVIg (RR 0.20, 95% CI 0.07 to 0.54; 1 RCT, 42 participants; moderate-certainty evidence).

Adverse events, IVIg versus placebo (induction or maintenance): four trials comparing IVIg and placebo reported adverse events, of which data from two studies could be meta-analysed. Transient side effects were reported in 71% of IVIg-treated participants versus 4.8% of placebo-treated participants in these studies. The pooled RR for the development of side effects was 10.33 (95% CI 2.15 to 49.77; 2 RCTs, 21 participants; very low-certainty evidence). There was only one serious side effect (pulmonary embolism) during IVIg treatment.

IVIg versus SCIg (maintenance treatment): the trial that compared continuation of IVIg maintenance versus SCIg maintenance did not measure disability. The evidence was very uncertain for muscle strength (standardised mean difference 0.08, 95% CI −0.84 to 1.00; 1 RCT, 9 participants; very low-certainty evidence). The evidence was very uncertain for the number of people with side effects attributable to treatment (RR 0.50, 95% CI 0.18 to 1.40; 1 RCT, 9 participants; very low-certainty evidence).

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