Objective: To evaluate the frequency, distribution and clinical significance of the antibodies to the fetal and/or adult acetylcholine receptor (AChR) in patients with myasthenia gravis (MG).
Methods: AChR antibodies were detected by cell-based assay in the serum of ocular MG (OMG) (n = 90) and generalized MG (GMG) patients (n = 110). The fetal-type (2α: β: γ: δ) and adult-type (2α: β: ε: δ) AChR were used as antigens, and their relevance to disease presentation was assessed.
Results: The overall frequencies of anti-adult and anti-fetal AChR antibodies were similar in all 200 patients examined, with 14 having serum specific to the AChR-Γ subunit, and 22 to the AChR-ε subunit. The overall sensitivity when using the fetal and adult AChR antibodies was higher than that when using the fetal AChR antibody only (P = 0.015). Compared with OMG patients, the mean age at disease onset and the positive ratio of antibodies to both isoforms of the AChR were significantly higher in patients who subsequently progressed to GMG. Older patients and patients with both anti-fetal and anti-adult AChR antibodies had a greater risk for developing generalized disease [odds ratio (OR), 1.03; 95% confidence interval (CI), 1.01-1.06 and OR, 5.09; 95% CI, 2.23-11.62].
Conclusion: Using both fetal- and adult-type AChRs as the antigens may be more sensitive than using either subtype. Patients with serum specific to both isoforms are at a greater risk of progressing to GMG. Patients with disease onset at an advanced age appear to have a higher frequency of GMG conversion.