Neuromuscular junction disorders.
Verschuuren J., Strijbos E., Vincent A.
Diseases of the neuromuscular junction comprise a wide range of disorders. Antibodies, genetic mutations, specific drugs or toxins interfere with the number or function of one of the essential proteins that control signaling between the presynaptic nerve ending and the postsynaptic muscle membrane. Acquired autoimmune disorders of the neuromuscular junction are the most common and are described here. In myasthenia gravis, antibodies to acetylcholine receptors or to proteins involved in receptor clustering, particularly muscle-specific kinase, cause direct loss of acetylcholine receptors or interfere with the agrin-induced acetylcholine receptor clustering necessary for efficient neurotransmission. In the Lambert-Eaton myasthenic syndrome (LEMS), loss of the presynaptic voltage-gated calcium channels results in reduced release of the acetylcholine transmitter. The conditions are generally recognizable clinically and the diagnosis confirmed by serologic testing and electromyography. Screening for thymomas in myasthenia or small cell cancer in LEMS is important. Fortunately, a wide range of symptomatic treatments, immunosuppressive drugs, or other immunomodulating therapies is available. Future research is directed to understanding the pathogenesis, discovering new antigens, and trying to develop disease-specific treatments.