Acetylcholine receptors and myasthenia

Muscle Nerve. 2000 Apr;23(4):453-77. doi: 10.1002/(sici)1097-4598(200004)23:4<453::aid-mus3>;2-o.


Much progress has been made in the 26 years since initial studies of the first purified acetylcholine receptors (AChRs) led to the discovery that an antibody-mediated autoimmune response to AChRs causes the muscular weakness and fatigability characteristic of myasthenia gravis (MG) and its animal model, experimental autoimmune myasthenia gravis (EAMG). Now, the structure of muscle AChRs is much better known. Monoclonal antibodies to muscle AChRs, developed as model autoantibodies for studies of EAMG, were used for initial purifications of neuronal AChRs, and now many homologous subunits of neuronal nicotinic AChRs have been cloned. There is a basic understanding of the pathological mechanisms by which autoantibodies to AChRs impair neuromuscular transmission. Immunodiagnostic assays for MG are used routinely. Nonspecific approaches to immunosuppressive therapy have been refined. However, fundamental mysteries remain regarding what initiates and sustains the autoimmune response to muscle AChRs and how to specifically suppress this autoimmune response using a practical therapy. Many rare congenital myasthenic syndromes have been elegantly shown to result from mutations in muscle AChRs. These studies have provided insights into AChR structure and function as well as into the pathological mechanisms of these diseases. Evidence has been found for autoimmune responses even to some central nervous system neurotransmitter receptors, but only one neuronal AChR has so far been implicated in an autoimmune disease. Thus far, only two neuronal AChR mutations have been found to be associated with a rare form of epilepsy, but many more neuronal AChR mutations will probably be found to be associated with disease in the years ahead.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antibody Formation
  • Autoantibodies / immunology
  • Humans
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiology
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiopathology
  • Mutation
  • Myasthenia Gravis / immunology
  • Myasthenia Gravis / physiopathology*
  • Neurons / physiology
  • Receptors, Cholinergic / genetics
  • Receptors, Cholinergic / immunology
  • Receptors, Cholinergic / physiology*


  • Autoantibodies
  • Receptors, Cholinergic