Experimental myasthenia gravis (MG) in animals, and in particular experimental autoimmune MG in rodents, serves as excellent models to study possible novel therapeutic modalities for MG. The current treatments for MG are based on cholinesterase inhibitors, general immunosuppressants, and corticosteroids, broad immunomodulatory therapies such as plasma exchange or intravenous immunoglobulins (IVIGs), and thymectomy for selected patients. This stresses the need for immunotherapies that would specifically or preferentially suppress the undesirable autoimmune response without widely affecting the entire immune system as most available treatments do. The available animal models for MG enable to perform preclinical studies in which novel therapeutic approaches can be tested. In this review, we describe the different therapeutic approaches that were so far tested in experimental models of MG and discuss their underlying mechanisms of action. These include antigen - acetylcholine receptor (AChR)-dependent treatments aimed at specifically abrogating the humoral and cellular anti-AChR responses as well as immunomodulatory approaches that could be used either alone or in conjunction with antigen-specific treatments or alternatively serve as steroid sparing agents. The antigen-specific treatments are based on fragments or peptides derived from the acetylcholine receptor (AChR) that would theoretically deviate the anti-AChR autoimmune response away from the muscle target or on ways to target AChR-specific T- and B- cell responses or antibodies. The immunomodulatory modalities include cell-based and non-cell-based ways to affect or manipulate key players in the autoimmune process such as regulatory T cells, dendritic cells, cytokine networks, and chemokine and costimulatory signaling as well as complement pathways. We also describe approaches that attempt to affect the cholinergic balance, which is impaired at the neuromuscular junction. In addition to enabling to test the feasibility of novel approaches, experimental MG enables to perform analyses of existing treatment modalities, which cannot be performed in human MG patients. These include studies on the mode of action of various immunosuppressants and on IVIGs. Hopefully, the vast repertoire of therapeutic approaches that are studied in experimental models of MG will pave the way to clinical studies that will eventually improve the management of MG.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
The studies described in this review which were performed in our laboratories were supported by the following grants: The Association Francaise Contre les Myopathies (AFM) (to MCS, SF, and TB), The Muscular Dystrophy Association of America (MDA), The European Commission (EC), The Chief Scientist Office, Israel Ministry of Health, and The Open University of Israel (to MCS and SF). TB is the incumbent of the Oded Abramsky chair in Neuroim-munology in the Hadassah-Hebrew University Medical Center.
- acetylcholine receptor
- animal models
- mucosal tolerance
- myasthenia gravis
- regulatory T cells