Myasthenia Gravis (MG)
MDA’s commitment to research on myasthenia gravis (MG) began many years ago when little was known about the cause of MG and its mortality rate was high.
In the early 1970s, MDA-funded researchers helped establish the autoimmune nature of MG. They showed that people with the disease have a reduced number of acetylcholine (ACh) receptors, and that antibodies to the receptors can induce MG in laboratory animals. These discoveries led swiftly to the lifesaving use of immunosuppressant drugs to treat the disease.
MDA-funded researchers also developed plasmapheresis as a treatment for MG. Today, scientists are refining plasmapheresis so that it sifts out only unwanted antibodies, not the antibodies that are doing their job properly.
Today, researchers are working to understand the specifics of the autoimmune problems in MG and to refine their detection and treatment. A particular area of focus is "rebalancing" the immune system, rather than the earlier approach of suppressing it. One way to rebalance the overactive immune system is by enhancing the activities or numbers of so-called regulatory T cells, which dampen an immune response that has gotten out of hand.
Another important area of current research is understanding the physiology of the neuromuscular junction (NMJ), with the goal of improving its function despite an immune system attack on it. For more, read New Directions: Can an immune response be rerouted to treat disease? and MG: Can the Immune Response Be Tamed? to learn more.