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Autoimmunity. 2010 Aug;43(5-6):413-27. doi: 10.3109/08916930903555935.

Thymoma and paraneoplastic myasthenia gravis.

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Institute of Pathology, University Medical Centre Mannheim, University of Heidelberg, D-68135 Mannheim, Germany.


Paraneoplastic autoimmune diseases associate occasionally with small cell lung cancers and gynecologic tumors. However, myasthenia gravis (MG) occurs in at least 30% of all patients with thymomas (usually present at MG diagnosis). These epithelial neoplasms almost always have numerous admixed maturing polyclonal T cells (thymocytes). This thymopoiesis-and export of mature CD4(+)T cells-particularly associates with MG, though there are rare/puzzling exceptions in apparently pure epithelial WHO type A thymomas. Other features potentially leading to inefficient self-tolerance induction include defective epithelial expression of the autoimmune regulator (AIRE) gene and/or of major histocompatibility complex class II molecules in thymomas, absence of myoid cells, failure to generate FOXP3(+) regulatory T cells, and genetic polymorphisms affecting T-cell signaling. However, the strong focus on MG/neuromuscular targets remains unexplained and suggests some biased autoantigen expression, T-cell selection, or autoimmunization within thymomas. There must be further clues in the intriguing serological and cellular parallels in some patients with late-onset MG but without thymomas-and in others with AIRE mutations-and in the contrasts with early-onset MG, as discussed here.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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