Expression of neurofilaments and of a titin epitope in thymic epithelial tumors. Implications for the pathogenesis of myasthenia gravis

Am J Pathol. 1996 Jun;148(6):1839-50.


Autoantibodies against both striated muscle proteins, particularly titin, and the acetylcholine receptor are a hallmark of thymoma-associated myasthenia gravis. However, the stimulus for these responses remains enigmatic as whole titin is not detectable in these tumors. This study reports that in thymomas with cortical differentiation many of the neoplastic epithelial cells expressed low and medium molecular weight neurofilaments detected with several antibodies (on selections and blots) and at the RNA level (by reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction). Moreover, higher molecular weight forms sharing at least one epitope with titin were detectable slightly less frequently, as were the more strongly phosphorylated epitopes. In stark contrast, in medullary and mixed thymomas, and especially in the normal thymus, immunoreactivity with anti-neurofilament antibodies was rare. This aberrant overexpression of a titin epitope by epithelial cells with antigen-presenting phenotype in an inappropriate cortical microenvironment suggests that they might autosensitize maturing T cells there and so initiate anti-titin autoimmunity in these patients.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Antibodies / immunology
  • Base Sequence
  • Connectin
  • Epitopes / analysis
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intermediate Filaments / chemistry
  • Intermediate Filaments / immunology
  • Intermediate Filaments / ultrastructure
  • Male
  • Microscopy, Immunoelectron
  • Middle Aged
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Muscle Proteins / biosynthesis*
  • Muscle Proteins / immunology
  • Myasthenia Gravis / etiology*
  • Myasthenia Gravis / pathology
  • Neurofilament Proteins / biosynthesis*
  • Neurofilament Proteins / genetics
  • Neurofilament Proteins / immunology
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Protein Kinases / biosynthesis*
  • Protein Kinases / immunology
  • RNA, Neoplasm / analysis
  • RNA, Neoplasm / genetics
  • Thymoma / metabolism*
  • Thymoma / pathology
  • Thymus Gland / metabolism
  • Thymus Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Thymus Neoplasms / pathology


  • Antibodies
  • Connectin
  • Epitopes
  • Muscle Proteins
  • Neurofilament Proteins
  • RNA, Neoplasm
  • TTN protein, human
  • Protein Kinases