Using immunohistochemistry, we studied the IgG subclass distribution of the anti-Hu antibody in serum, nervous system, and tumor of patients with anti-Hu-associated paraneoplastic encephalomyelitis/sensory neuronopathy (PEM/PSN). The nervous system was also examined for deposits of complement and the distribution and type of inflammatory cells. IgG1 and IgG3 were the predominant isotypes of the anti-Hu IgG in serum, nervous system, and tumor. A few patients also had anti-Hu IgG2, but this isotype was not consistently present in all the regions of the nervous system studied. There was no correlation between neurologic symptoms and specific anti-Hu isotype, nor was there evidence that different anti-Hu isotypes recognized specific brain regions. Although IgG1 and IgG3 can activate complement, only weak complement reactivity was found, and that only in a few areas of the nervous system. This finding, in addition to the absence of natural killer (NK) cells, suggested that complement-mediated toxicity and antibody-dependent cell cytotoxicity mediated by NK cells are not pathogenic in PEM/PSN. Inflammatory infiltrates included CD19+ (B cells) and CD4+ (helper/inducer) cells in the perivascular spaces, and lymphocytes bearing CD8+CDllb- markers (cytotoxic T cells) in the interstitial spaces. Infiltrates of EBM11+ (monocyte/macrophage) cells were identified in the perivascular spaces (macrophage phenotype) and in those interstitial regions (microglial pheno-type) with severe pathologic changes. The ability of the IgG1 and IgG3 isotypes to bind Fc receptors may have played a role in the recruitment of these monocyte/macrophage cells. We conclude that anti-Hu-associated PEM/PSN is a complex immune disorder in which both cell-mediated and humoral (probably non-CMT and non-ADCC) cytotoxic mechanisms appear to be involved in its pathogenesis.