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Developmental Immunology
Volume 8 (2001), Issue 3-4, Pages 279-290

Evidence for Distinct Mechanisms in the Shaping of the CD4 T Cell Repertoire in Histologically Distinct Myasthenia Gravis – Associated Thymomas

1Department of Pathology, Pathologisches Institut, University of Würzburg, Josef-Schneider-Strasse 2, Würzburg D-97080, Germany
2Institute of Physiological Chemistry, Tübingen, Germany

Copyright © 2001 Hindawi Publishing Corporation. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


The major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class II is involved both in thymocyte maturation and peptide presentation and might thus play a key role in the pathogenesis of paraneoplastic myasthenia gravis (MG) in thymomas. To further investigate this issue, we analyzed and scored the expression of epithelial class II expression in 35 thymomas (medullary, MDT; mixed, MXT; cortical and well differentiated thymic carcinoma, CT / WDTC) and correlated it with the histological tumor subtype, prevalence of MG and thymocyte maturation, which was analyzed by flow cytometry and RT-PCR. Our results show that both MHC class II expression and thymocyte maturation are highly dependent on the histological tumor subtype. CT / WDTC retain features of the normal outer thymic cortex, namely substantial MHC class II expression together with normal early thymocyte maturation until late phases of positive selection, but disturbed terminal thymopoiesis. By contrast, MDT and MXT retain features of the normal inner cortex and the medulla with low to absent class II expression and highly abnormal early thymocyte maturation including impaired positive selection, while terminal T cell maturation in MXT appeared undisturbed. There was no correlation between MHC class II expression and MG status for a given tumor subtype. In conclusion, our results provide evidence for a different histogenesis of cortical thymomas and well differentiated carcinomas on the one hand and mixed and medullary thymomas on the other.

Decreased expression levels of MHC class II, although of crucial importance for abnormal intratumorous maturation, are not sufficient to explain the emergence of paraneoplastic MG.