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J Autoimmun. 1998 Dec;11(6):621-33.

TCR-Vbeta usage in the thymus and blood of myasthenia gravis patients.

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College of Biological Sciences, University of Minnesota, St. Paul, MN, 55108, USA.


In myasthenia gravis (MG) the muscle acetylcholine receptor (AChR) is the target of an autoimmune response. The anti-AChR response may originate in the thymus, which is abnormal in most MG patients and contains anti-AChR T and B cells. Microbial superantigens (sAg) may trigger autoimmune responses and in this study we sought clues as to whether sAg play a role in the pathogenesis of MG. We investigated the frequency of use of the different TCR Vbeta families by the thymus and blood T cells in MG patients and in control subjects, using a multi-primer PCR assay. Identical TCR-Vbeta usage was found in the thymi of MG patients and controls, except Vbeta2, which showed a small increase in MG patients' thymi. Blood T cells of MG patients used Vbeta4, Vbeta6, Vbeta15, Vbeta16 and Vbeta24 significantly more than those of the controls. Vbeta4 and Vbeta6 are the gene families most frequently used by anti-AChR CD4(+) cells in MG patients. Blood T cells from MG patients used Vbeta12, Vbeta14, Vbeta17 and Vbeta18 significantly less than controls. MG patients used Vbeta4 and Vbeta6 significantly more in the blood than in the thymus, while the opposite occurred for Vbeta7, Vbeta12 and Vbeta14. Controls used Vbeta17 more and Vbeta24 less in the blood than in the thymus. The preferential expansion of Vbeta4 and Vbeta6 in MG patients might reflect the immunodominance of certain AChR epitopes, or the action of a sAg outside the thymus. The minimal differences in the TCR-Vbeta usage in the blood and thymus of control subjects might be due to expansion of T cell clones specific for common antigens. Identical Vbeta usage in the thymi of MG patients and controls does not support an important role of the thymus as the location of anti-AChR sensitization when MG is clinically evident. The differences observed in the Vbeta usage in blood and thymi of MG patients are likely to be due to preferential Vbeta usage by the anti-AChR T cells in the blood.

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