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Original research
Clinical value of cell-based assays in the characterisation of seronegative myasthenia gravis


Objective Patients with myasthenia gravis without acetylcholine receptor (AChR) or muscle-specific kinase (MuSK) antibodies detected by radioimmunoprecipitation assays (RIAs) are classified as seronegative myasthenia gravis (SNMG). Live cell-based assays (l-CBAs) can detect additional antibodies to clustered AChR, MuSK and low-density lipoprotein receptor-related protein 4 (LRP4), but positivity rates are variable and both clinical relevance and utility of CBA platforms remain unclear.

Methods Sera from 82 patients with SNMG were tested by l-CBAs. Human embryonic kidney cells were transfected to individually express clustered AChR, MuSK or LRP4; or transfected to jointly express both clustered adult AChR and MuSK. Sera from 30 and 20 patients positive by RIA for AChR or MuSK antibodies were used as comparators.

Results 53 of 82 (72%) patients with SNMG had generalised and 29 (28%) had ocular disease. The clustered AChR CBA detected antibodies in 16 of 82 patients (19.5%; including 4 patients with solely fetal AChR antibodies), while 7 of 82 (8.5%) patients had MuSK antibodies. A novel exploratory combined adult AChR-MuSK l-CBA efficiently detected all these antibodies in a subset of the SNMG cohort. No LRP4 antibodies were identified. Overall, patients with SNMG with clustered AChR antibodies, CBA-positive MuSK-MG or triple seronegative were younger, had less severe disease than patients with RIA-positive MG and had a better clinical outcome when immunotherapy was started soon after disease onset, although the time interval from onset to immunotherapy was not different when compared with patients with RIA-positive MG.

Conclusion Around one-third of patients with SNMG had AChR or MuSK antibodies by l-CBAs, which were efficiently detected with a combined l-CBA. The results in this large and unselected cohort of patients with MG demonstrate the diagnostic usefulness of performing CBAs and the importance of making these tests more widely available.


Data availability statement

Data are available upon reasonable request.

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