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Clinical and Developmental Immunology
Volume 10, Issue 1, Pages 7-12

Pathomechanisms of Paraneoplastic Myasthenia Gravis

Institute of Pathology, University of Wuerzburg, Josef-Schneider-Strasse 2, Wuerzburg 97080, Germany

Copyright © 2003 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.


Thymic T cell development is characterized by sequential selection processes to ensure generation of a self-tolerant, immuncompetent mature T cell repertoire. Malfunction of any of these selection processes may potentially result in either immunodeficiency or autoimmunity. Myasthenia gravis (MG) is a typical autoimmune manifestation of thymic epithelial tumors (thymomas) and is related to the capacity of these tumors to generate and export mature T cells. Analysis of the factors that lead to autoimmunization in thymomas will help to understand the mechanisms that prevent MG under physiological conditions in humans. In a comparison of MG(+) and MG(-) thymomas, we could show that only thymomas capable of generating mature CD45RA+CD4+ T cells are associated with MG (p< 0.0001), while terminal thymopoiesis was abrogated in MG(-) thymomas. In particular, acquisition of the CD27+CD45RA+ phenotype appears to be a critical checkpoint of late T cell development in the human thymus and may play an important role in the prevention of autoimmunity. Moreover, MG(-) thymomas were virtually depleted of regulatory (CD4+CD25+) T cells (regT), while regT were readily detectable in MG(+) thymomas, albeit at significantly reduced numbers compared to control thymuses. Thus, in MG(+) thymoma patients, thymectomy apparently also results in removal of a regulatory T cell pool and may explain the frequent temporary postoperative deterioration of MG in these patients.