Myasthenia gravis: CD4+ T epitopes on the embryonic γ subunit of human muscle acetylcholine receptor

Maria Pia Protti, Angelo A. Manfredi, Xiao Dong Wu, Lucia Moiola, Mark W M Dalton, James F. Howard, Bianca M. Conti-Tronconi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In myasthenia gravis (MG) an autoimmune response against muscle acetylcholine receptor (AChR) occurs. Embryonic muscle AChR contains a γ subunit, substituted in adult muscle by a homologous e subunit. Antibodies and CD4+ cells specific for embryonic AChR have been demonstrated in MG patients. We identified sequence segments of the human 7 subunit forming epitopes recognized by four embryonic AChR-specific CD4+ T cell lines, propagated from MG patients' blood by stimulation with synthetic peptides corresponding to the human γ subunit sequence. Each line had an individual epitope repertoire, but two 20-residue sequence regions were recognized by three lines of different HLA haplotype. Most T epitope sequences were highly diverged between the γ and the other AChR subunits, confirming the specificity of the T cells for embryonic AChR. These T cells may have been sensitized against AChR expressed by a tissue other than innervated skeletal muscle, possibly the thymus, which expresses an embryonic muscle AChR-like protein, containing a γ subunit. Several sequence segments forming T epitopes are similar to regions of microbial and / or mammalian proteins unrelated to the AChR. These findings are consistent with the possibility that T cell cross-reactivity between unrelated proteins ("molecular mimicry"), proposed as a cause of autoimmune responses, is not a rare event.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1558-1567
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Clinical Investigation
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Oct 1992


  • Embryonic acetylcholine receptor
  • Myasthenia gravis
  • T epitopes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)


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