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The properties of neuromuscular junctions (NMJs) were studied in motor-point biopsy samples from eight patients with congenital myasthenic syndromes affecting primarily proximal limb muscles ['limb-girdle myasthenia' (LGM)]. All had moderate to severe weakness of the proximal muscles, without short-term clinical fatigability but with marked variation in strength over periods of weeks or months, with little or no facial weakness or ptosis and no ophthalmoplegia. Most had a characteristic gait and stance. All patients showed decrement of the compound muscle action potential (CMAP) on repetitive stimulation at 3 Hz, and increased jitter and blocking was detected by SFEMG, confirming the presence of impaired neuromuscular transmission. None of the patients had serum antibodies against acetylcholine receptors (AChRs). Two of the patients had similarly affected siblings. Intracellular recording from isolated nerve-muscle preparations revealed that the quantal content (the number of ACh quanta released per nerve impulse) was only approximately 50% of that in controls. However, the quantal size (amplitude of miniature end-plate currents) and the kinetic properties of synaptic potentials and currents were similar to control values. The area of synaptic contact and extent of post-synaptic folding were approximately 50% of control values. Thus, the quantal content per unit area of synaptic contact was normal. The number of AChRs per NMJ was also reduced to approximately 50% of normal, so the local AChR density was normal. Immunolabelling studies revealed qualitatively normal distributions and abundance of each of 14 proteins normally concentrated at the NMJ, including components of the basal lamina, post-synaptic membrane and post-synaptic cytoskeleton. DNA analysis failed to detect mutations in the genes encoding any of the following proteins: AChR subunits, rapsyn, ColQ, ChAT or muscle-specific kinase. Response of these patients to treatment was varied: few showed long-term improvement with pyridostigmine and some even deteriorated with treatments, while others had intolerable side-effects. Several patients showed improvement with 3,4-diaminopyridine, but this was generally only transient. Ephedrine was helpful in half of the patients. We conclude that impaired neuromuscular transmission in these LGM patients results from structural abnormalities of the NMJ, including reduced size and post-synaptic folding, rather from any abnormality in the immediate events of neuromuscular transmission.

Original publication

DOI

10.1093/brain/awl200

Type

Journal article

Journal

Brain

Publication Date

08/2006

Volume

129

Pages

2061 - 2076

Keywords

Adolescent, Adult, Child, Cholinesterases, DNA Mutational Analysis, Electric Stimulation, Electromyography, Extremities, Female, Humans, Male, Microscopy, Electron, Motor Neurons, Muscle, Skeletal, Myasthenia Gravis, Neural Conduction, Neuromuscular Junction, Receptors, Cholinergic, Synaptic Transmission