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The neuromuscular junction is the target of a variety of autoimmune, neurotoxic and genetic disorders, most of which result in muscle weakness. Most of the diseases, and many neurotoxins, target the ion channels that are essential for neuromuscular transmission. Myasthenia gravis is an acquired autoimmune disease caused in the majority of patients by antibodies to the acetylcholine receptor, a ligand-gated ion channel. The antibodies lead to loss of acetylcholine receptor, reduced efficiency of neuromuscular transmission and muscle weakness and fatigue. Placental transfer of these antibodies in women with myasthenia can cause fetal or neonatal weakness and occasionally severe deformities. Lambert Eaton myasthenic syndrome and acquired neuromyotonia are caused by antibodies to voltage-gated calcium or potassium channels, respectively. In the rare acquired neuromyotonia, reduced repolarization of the nerve terminal leads to spontaneous and repetitive muscle activity. In each of these disorders, the antibodies are detected by immunoprecipitation of the relevant ion channel labelled with radioactive neurotoxins. Genetic disorders of neuromuscular transmission are due mainly to mutations in the genes for the acetylcholine receptor. These conditions show recessive or dominant inheritance and result in either loss of receptors or altered kinetics of acetylcholine receptor channel properties. Study of these conditions has greatly increased our understanding of synaptic function and of disease aetiology.

Original publication




Journal article


Eur J Biochem

Publication Date





6717 - 6728


Binding Sites, Female, Humans, Ion Channels, Isaacs Syndrome, Kinetics, Lambert-Eaton Myasthenic Syndrome, Male, Models, Biological, Muscular Diseases, Mutation, Myasthenia Gravis, Neuromuscular Junction, Potassium Channels, Precipitin Tests, Pregnancy, Receptors, Cholinergic