Merck Manual

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Professional Version

Gammopathies in Animals


Ian Rodney Tizard

, BVMS, BSc, PhD, DSc (Hons), DACVM, Department of Veterinary Pathobiology, College of Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University

Reviewed/Revised Jan 2024

Gammopathies are conditions in which serum immunoglobulin levels are greatly increased. They can be classified either as polyclonal (increases in all major immunoglobulin classes) or monoclonal (increases in a single homogeneous immunoglobulin).

Polyclonal gammopathies result from chronic stimulation of the immune system. They can therefore be caused by the following:

In many cases, there is no obvious predisposing cause. In some patients, the gammopathy may initially be monoclonal because of the predominance of a single immunoglobulin class (usually IgG). This has been observed in cats with noneffusive feline infectious peritonitis Feline Infectious Peritonitis Feline infectious peritonitis is a severe, immune-mediated coronaviral disease of cats. Effusion and pyogranulomatous inflammation are clinical hallmarks. Diagnosis requires a multimodal approach... read more Feline Infectious Peritonitis and in dogs with chronic tropical canine pancytopenia.

Monoclonal gammopathies are characterized by the production of large amounts of a single immunoglobulin protein. Monoclonal gammopathies are either benign (ie, associated with no underlying disease) or, more commonly, associated with immunoglobulin-secreting plasma cell tumors (myelomas).

Tumors that secrete monoclonal antibodies originate from plasma cells. These myelomas can secrete intact proteins of any immunoglobulin class or immunoglobulin subunits (light chains or heavy chains). Myeloma proteins in dogs are commonly IgG or IgA and less commonly IgM. Myeloma proteins in cats and horses usually are IgG and, uncommonly, IgM, IgG3 (horses), or IgA.

Clinical signs depend on the location and severity of the primary neoplasm and on the amount and type of immunoglobulin secreted. Plasma-cell myelomas frequently develop in marrow cavities of flat bones of the skull, ribs, and pelvis, and in the vertebrae, causing severe bone erosion. Pathologic fractures can lead to spinal pain and lameness.

Disease can result from the presence of the monoclonal protein itself. For example, some forms of amyloidosis Amyloidosis are due to deposition of immunoglobulin light chains in tissues (AL amyloid).

Hyperviscosity syndrome occurs in 20% of dogs with IgM or IgA monoclonal proteins if the protein levels in blood are high. In this syndrome, plasma viscosity can be many times normal, resulting in profound vascular disturbances, thrombosis, and bleeding. Depression, blindness, and neurologic manifestations can be due to hemorrhage in the nervous system and retina.

Some IgM monoclonal proteins are cryoglobulins and aggregate in vitro and in vivo when the plasma is cooled. Patients with cryoglobulinemia often develop gangrenous sloughs of the ear tips, eyelids, digits, and tip of the tail, especially during cold weather.

Animals with monoclonal gammopathies may have depressed levels of normal immunoglobulins and are therefore immunodeficient.

Immunoglobulin-secreting tumors usually are treated with appropriate chemotherapy. Plasmapheresis may be required to lower serum viscosity in patients with clinical signs of hyperviscosity syndrome.

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