Interferon system and natural killer cell activity in myasthenia gravis

Edna Kott, Talia Hahn, Moshe Huberman, Stanley Levin, Ami Schattner*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The autoimmune response in myasthenia gravis is well characterized, but little is known about the mechanisms initiating it. We have studied the interferon system and natural killer cell activity in 25 patients with myasthenia gravis and compared them to 68 healthy subjects and 96 patients with acute viral infections. Forty-four per cent of patients had circulating interferon (>16 u/ml), and in a similar proportion their peripheral blood mononuclear cells were in an antiviral state, i.e., showed low levels of viral replication when infected by vesicular stomatitis virus. Spontaneous in vitro interferon production by patients'peripheral blood mononuclear cells was also common (>10 u/ml, 32 per cent), while the response to the α-interferon inducer poly I:C was lower than expected, possibly reflecting the already high state of activiation of the interferon system. These results were essentially similar to those obtained in patients with viral illnesses and differed significantly from healthy controls. In many myasthenia gravis patients (16 of 22, 73 per cent), a markedly deficient natural killer cell activity was found, with a median cytotoxicity of 6.5 per cent compared to 29 per cent in healthy subjects (p<0.005). Thus, many patients with myasthenia gravis have evidience of an activated interferon system and defective natural killer cell activity, suggesting an occult viral infection or reflecting nonspecific stimulation which may nevertheless contribute to the pathogenesis of the autoimmune response.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)951-960
Number of pages10
JournalQJM - Monthly Journal of the Association of Physicians
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1990
Externally publishedYes


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