Seropositivity for West Nile Virus Antibodies in Patients Affected by Myasthenia Gravis

Marilena Greco, Pietro Cofano, Giambattista Lobreglio


Background: Myasthenia gravis (MG) is an autoimmune neuromuscular disease characterized by varying degrees of weakness of the skeletal muscles. Specific auto-antibodies against acetylcholine receptor (AChR) are present in the majority of MG patients, although the main cause behind its development still remains unclear. Recently MG development following West Nile virus (WNV) infection has been described in patients without any earlier evidence of MG. It is known that infectious agents trigger immune response and occasionally initiate autoimmune disease. WNV, the causative agent of both benign illness and neuroinvasive disease, has become endemic in many countries in all continents.

Methods: In the present study, 29 patients (15 males and 14 females, 19 - 78 years old) with confirmed diagnosis of MG and elevated levels of AChR autoantibodies were screened for the presence of serum anti-WNV antibodies and compared to a similar population affected by different autoimmune diseases. Indirect immunofluorescent antibody technique was used to evaluate the reaction of patients sera on cells infected by WNV.

Results: Positive fluorescent signals for anti-WNV IgG were obtained in 17% of MG patients, although no clinical manifestations related to WNV infection were reported. These results are in agreement with previous data and appear of great interest in the understanding of the pathogenic autoimmune mechanisms at the bases of MG development.

Conclusion: As already observed in other human autoimmune diseases, pathogen-triggered autoimmunity could be involved in MG by breaking immunological self-tolerance through possible mechanisms of molecular mimicry between virus proteins and AChR subunits. In predisposed individuals, WNV infection could also represent an additional risk factor to initiate MG.

J Clin Med Res. 2016;8(3):196-201


Myasthenia gravis; Autoimmunity; West Nile virus

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