Antibodies directed against the post-synaptic neuromuscular junction protein, muscle specific kinase (MuSK) are found in a small proportion of generalized myasthenia gravis (MuSK-MG) patients. MuSK is a receptor tyrosine kinase which is essential for clustering of the acetylcholine receptors (AChRs) at the neuromuscular junction, but the mechanisms by which MuSK antibodies (MuSK-Abs) affect neuromuscular transmission are not clear. Experimental models of MuSK-MG have been described but there have been no detailed electrophysiological studies and no comparisons between the MuSK-MG and the typical form with AChR-Abs (AChR-MG). Here we studied the electrophysiology of neuromuscular transmission after immunization against MuSK compared with immunization against AChR, and also after passive transfer of IgG from MuSK-MG or AChR-MG patients. Overt clinical weakness was observed in 6/10 MuSK-immunized and 3/9 AChR-immunized mice but not in those injected with patients' IgG. Miniature endplate potentials (MEPPS) were reduced in all weak mice consistent with the reduction in postsynaptic AChRs that was found. However, whereas there was an increase in the quantal release of acetylcholine (ACh) in the weak AChR-immunized mice, no such increase was found in the weak MuSK-immunized mice. Similar trends were found after the passive transfer of purified IgG antibodies from MuSK-MG or AChR-MG patients. Preliminary results showed that MuSK expression was considerably higher at the neuromuscular junctions of the masseter (facial) than in the gastrocnemius (leg) with no reduction in MuSK immunostaining at the neuromuscular junctions. Overall, these results suggest that MuSK antibodies act in at least two ways. Firstly by indirectly affecting MuSK's ability to maintain the high density of AChRs and secondly by interfering with a compensatory presynaptic mechanism that regulates quantal release and helps to preserve neuromuscular function. These results raise questions about how MuSK is involved in retrograde signaling, and the combination of post-synaptic defects with lack of presynaptic compensation may begin to explain the more severe disease in MuSK-MG patients.
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- Disease Models, Animal
- Immunization, Passive
- Motor Activity/immunology
- Muscle Weakness/immunology
- Myasthenia Gravis, Autoimmune, Experimental/immunology
- Neuromuscular Junction/immunology
- Receptor Protein-Tyrosine Kinases/immunology
- Receptors, Cholinergic/immunology