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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Immunoregulation in myasthenia gravis Kaufman, Robin L.


Myasthenia Gravis (MG) is an autoimmune disorder of neuromuscular transmission. Clinically, the disease is manifested by abnormal muscle fatigue with recovery on resting. Circulating nicotinic acetylcholine receptor antibodies (nAchR Ab) are highly characteristic of myasthenia gravis. These antibodies have been shown to be directly pathogenic at the muscle endplate and are responsible for impaired neuromuscular transmission through several mechanisms. While it is clear that the immune system does not function normally in MG, the mechanisms by which the response to nAchR is initiated and perpetuated remain unknown. Moreover, it is not clear whether immunoregulatory defects actually precede development of MG or are secondary features of the disease. The overall goal of the present investigation has been to more clearly define the nature of the immune regulatory defects existing in MG, both at the cellular level and in terms of possible relationship to disease progression. To begin these studies it was necessary to develop an assay that could be used to measure nAchR Ab secreted by lymphocytes in culture. Thus, we modified the original nAchR Ab immunoassay described by Lindstrom (1976) for this purpose. Additionally, in order to gain access to an appropriate patient base for our study, we established a further modification with improved sensitivity for detection of serum nAchR Ab. This important diagnostic test had not been available in this country. Therefore, our assay was made available in Canada for clinical purposes. Through the study of in vitro nAchR Ab and polyclonal IgG secretion by peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMNC), we were able to identify two previously unrecognized subgroups of seropositive, generalized MG patients. PBMNC from patients with long disease duration had low capacity for in vitro Ab production (Nonsecretors). Among patients of short disease duration, PBMNC produced nAchR Ab and also secreted higher than normal levels of polyclonal IgG (Secretors). The data suggested that there were nonspecific abnormalities affecting the immune response in myasthenia gravis. Moreover, regulation of B lymphocyte mediated immune function appeared to be related to disease progression. It was hypothesized that circulating auto-antibody may contribute to deregulation of the immune response at certain stages of disease through direct interactions with leukocyte determinants. Separation/reconstitution experiments with CD4+ enriched, T-helper/inducer lymphocytes and B enriched (E- cells) lymphocytes suggested that the control of antibody production in myasthenia gravis was operative at the T-helper/inducer level. Preliminary studies with serum pretreated, CD4+ enriched, T-helper/inducer lymphocytes suggested that serum of Secretor MG patients indeed contained a factor(s) which interfered with the function of a CD4+ lymphocyte subset. We further hypothesized that nAchR Ab would have the potential to behave as anti-lymphocyte Ab if nAchR were expressed on lymphocytes. Accordingly, direct binding studies, using the nicotinic antagonist, alpha-bungarotoxin, were carried out to look for such receptors on PBMNC. Specific, saturable binding of alpha-bungarotoxin to the rhabdomyosarcoma cell line, TE671, was confirmed and characterized. However, in parallel studies, alpha-bungarotoxin binding to PBMNC of healthy individuals or MG patients was not detected. These results suggested that nicotinic acetylcholine receptors, of the type expressed by muscle endplate, do not occur on human peripheral blood mononuclear cells.

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