Pathogenic immune mechanisms at the neuromuscular synapse: the role of specific antibody-binding epitopes in myasthenia gravis

J Intern Med. 2014 Jan;275(1):12-26. doi: 10.1111/joim.12163. Epub 2013 Nov 29.


Autoantibodies against three different postsynaptic antigens and one presynaptic antigen at the neuromuscular junction are known to cause myasthenic syndromes. The mechanisms by which these antibodies cause muscle weakness vary from antigenic modulation and complement-mediated membrane damage to inhibition of endogenous ligand binding and blocking of essential protein-protein interactions. These mechanisms are related to the autoantibody titre, specific epitopes on the target proteins and IgG autoantibody subclass. We here review the role of specific autoantibody-binding epitopes in myasthenia gravis, their possible relevance to the pathophysiology of the disease and potential implications of epitope mapping knowledge for new therapeutic strategies.

Keywords: acetylcholine receptor; autoimmunity; epitope mapping; muscle-specific kinase; myasthenia gravis; neuromuscular junction.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Antigen-Antibody Reactions*
  • Autoantibodies / metabolism
  • Autoimmunity
  • Epitope Mapping* / methods
  • Epitope Mapping* / trends
  • Epitopes / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Immunoglobulin G / classification
  • Immunoglobulin G / immunology
  • Myasthenia Gravis / immunology*
  • Myasthenia Gravis, Autoimmune, Experimental / drug therapy
  • Neuromuscular Junction / immunology*
  • Receptors, Cholinergic / immunology
  • Therapies, Investigational / methods
  • Therapies, Investigational / trends


  • Autoantibodies
  • Epitopes
  • Immunoglobulin G
  • Receptors, Cholinergic