Myasthenia gravis is an autoimmune disease associated with thymic pathologies, including hyperplasia. In this study, we investigated the processes that may lead to thymic overexpression of the triggering Ag, the acetylcholine receptor (AChR). Using microarray technology, we found that IFN-regulated genes are more highly expressed in these pathological thymic tissues compared with age- and sex-matched normal thymus controls. Therefore, we investigated whether proinflammatory cytokines could locally modify AChR expression in myoid and thymic epithelial cells. We found that AChR transcripts are up-regulated by IFN-γ, and even more so by IFN-γ and TNF-α, as assessed by real-time RT-PCR, with the α-AChR subunit being the most sensitive to this regulation. The expression of AChR protein was increased at the cytoplasmic level in thymic epithelial cells and at the membrane in myoid cells. To examine whether IFN-γ could influence AChR expression in vivo, we analyzed AChR transcripts in IFN-γ gene knock-out mice, and found a significant decrease in AChR transcript levels in the thymus but not in the muscle, compared with wild-type mice. However, up-regulation of AChR protein expression was found in the muscles of animals with myasthenic symptoms treated with TNF-α. Altogether, these results indicate that proinflammatory cytokines influence the expression of AChR in vitro and in vivo. Because proinflammatory cytokine activity is evidenced in the thymus of myasthenia gravis patients, it could influence AChR expression and thereby contribute to the initiation of the autoimmune anti-AChR response.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Immunology and Allergy