The immunopathology of myasthenia gravis

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26 Scopus citations


Experimental autoimmune myasthenia gravis, induced by immunization with solubilized acetylcholine receptors, has proven an excellent animal model for the study of myasthenia gravis. The role of the thymus in myasthenia gravis is not yet known. Its content of skeletal muscle elements and acetylcholine receptors and the presence of germinal centers in myasthenia gravis suggest that the thymus could be a site of autoimmunization. An effector role has not been demonstrated for T cells in the pathogenesis of experimental autoimmune or clinical myasthenia gravis, but helper T cells participate in the rat's autoantibody response to acetylcholine receptors. Antibodies and lymphocytes reactive with acetylcholine receptors are demonstrable in the peripheral blood of patients with myasthenia gravis and appear to be specific for this disease. Parallel studies of both experimental autoimmune and clinical myasthenia gravis have provided evidence for an autoimmune basis for the pathophysiology in myasthenia gravis. Antiacetylcholine receptor antibodies appear to play a central role in impairing neuromuscular transmission. Numerous antibody specificities have been described, but none seems to be directed at the acetylcholine binding site of the receptor. Addition of antiacetylcholine receptor antibodies to cultured muscle cells, in the absence of complement, causes redistribution of the receptors on the membranes of myotubes, accelerated receptor degradation, apparent impairment of ionophore function, and loss of sensitivity to acetylcholine. In vivo complement appears to be an important mediator of antiacetylcholine receptor antibody pathogenicity. Its presence is essential for the passive transfer of experimental autoimmune myasthenia gravis with antibodies. In muscle biopsy specimens from patients with myasthenia gravis, IgG and C3 have been demonstrated on the postsynaptic membrane and on degenerated fragments of membrane in the synaptic cleft. This suggests that complement activation in vivo is associated with focal lysis of the postsynaptic membrane. A causal relationship appears to exist between the binding of antibody to acetylcholine receptors, the reduction in muscle acetylcholine receptors, and impairment of neuromuscular transmission.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)541-551
Number of pages11
JournalHuman Pathology
Issue number5
StatePublished - 1978

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine


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