Towards the molecular elucidation of congenital myasthenic syndromes: identification of mutations in MuSK

Acta Myol. 2005 Oct;24(2):55-9.


Congenital myasthenic syndromes (CMS) are rare genetic diseases affecting the neuromuscular junction (NMJ) and characterized by a dysfunction of the neurotransmission. They are heterogeneous at the pathophysiological level and can be classified in three categories according to their origin: presynaptic, synaptic or postsynaptic. The strategy for the diagnosis and characterization of CMS relies on the clinic, EMG, muscle biopsy, identification of mutations in genes known to be responsible for CMS and the demonstration that the gene mutations are the cause of the disease by using experimental approaches. As an example of such strategy, we report briefly here the characterization of the first case of a human neuromuscular transmission dysfunction due to mutations in the gene encoding a postsynaptic molecule, the muscle-specific receptor tyrosine kinase (MuSK). Gene analysis identified two heteroallelic mutations, a frameshift mutation (c.220insC) and a missense mutation (V790M). The muscle biopsy showed marked pre- and postsynaptic structural abnormalities of the neuromuscular junction as well as a severe decrease in acetylcholine receptor epsilon-subunit and MuSK expression. In vitro and in vivo expression experiments were performed using mutant MuSK reproducing the human mutations. The results obtained strongly suggested that the missense mutation, in the presence of a null mutation on the other allele, was responsible for the severe synaptic changes observed in the patient and, hence, is causing the disease. However the molecular origin of a large number of CMS is still unknown. There are hundreds of molecules known to be present at the NMJ and mutations in the genes coding for these synaptic molecules are likely to be responsible for a neuromuscular block.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • DNA Mutational Analysis
  • Frameshift Mutation
  • Humans
  • Mutation, Missense
  • Myasthenic Syndromes, Congenital / genetics*
  • Receptor Protein-Tyrosine Kinases / genetics*
  • Receptors, Cholinergic / genetics*


  • Receptors, Cholinergic
  • MUSK protein, human
  • Receptor Protein-Tyrosine Kinases