The role of the thymus gland

The removal of the thymus gland frequently improves the clinical state of patients with myasthenia gravis. The reason for this is not clear. Cells in the thymus gland have been shown to produce anti-acetylcholine receptor antibody. However, the amount of antibody produced is small, and most is produced in the periphery outside the thymus gland. Acetylcholine-receptor-like tissue has been identified in thymic tissue and may act as an antigenic stimulus for antibody production. The thymus gland may be a source of lymphocytes which stimulate antibody production elsewhere in the body. The removal of the thymus gland is followed by a decrease in antibody level in those patients with a thymus which appears histologically active.

The precise trigger for the onset of myasthenia gravis is not known.

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