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J Neuroimmunol. 1994 Mar;50(2):177-86.

Acetylcholine receptor-reactive T cells in myasthenia gravis: evidence for the involvement of different subpopulations of T helper cells.

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Immunological Research Laboratory, Karolinska Hospital, Stockholm, Sweden.


Patients with myasthenia gravis have a high prevalence of acetylcholine receptor-specific T lymphocytes in the peripheral blood. Our earlier study shows that these T lymphocytes are stimulated to secrete interferon (IFN)-gamma and interleukin (IL)-2 in response to the autoantigen. Such stimulated T cells may be subdivided into different subsets according to the pattern of cytokine production. In the present study we have investigated the subpopulations of cells by analyzing their IL-4, IFN-gamma and IL-2 secretion pattern. Autoantigen-stimulated IL-4 secretion was found in 55% of the patients, IFN-gamma secretion in 86% and IL-2 secretion in 72%. T lymphocytes from all patients who responded with increased IL-2 secretion also showed increased IFN-gamma secretion. Stimulated IL-4 secretion was detected both in the presence and absence of stimulated IFN-gamma secretion. Depletion of monocytes/macrophages from peripheral blood mononuclear cell preparation and treatment of the cells with a mouse anti-human HLA-DR antibody abolished the secretion of IFN-gamma and IL-4. There were positive correlations between the numbers of IFN-gamma- and IL-2-secreting T cells and the numbers of B cells secreting antibodies against the acetylcholine receptor. Our results show that acetylcholine receptor-stimulated T lymphocytes secrete IL-4, IFN-gamma and/or IL-2. This T cell response is major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class II-restricted and monocyte/macrophage-dependent. Our study indicates that both Th1/Th2 or Th0 subpopulations of the T lymphocytes are involved in the autoimmune response in myasthenia gravis.

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