Reemergence of pathogenic, autoantibody-producing B cell clones in myasthenia gravis following B cell depletion therapy

M.L. Fichtner, K.B. Hoehn, E.E. Ford, M. Mane-Damas, S. Oh, P. Waters, A.S. Payne, M.L. Smith, C.T. Watson, M. Losen, P. Martinez-Martinez, R.J. Nowak, S.H. Kleinstein, K.C. O'Connor*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Myasthenia gravis (MG) is an autoantibody-mediated autoimmune disorder of the neuromuscular junction. A small subset of patients (<10%) with MG, have autoantibodies targeting muscle-specific tyrosine kinase (MuSK). MuSK MG patients respond well to CD20-mediated B cell depletion therapy (BCDT); most achieve complete stable remission. However, relapse often occurs. To further understand the immunomechanisms underlying relapse, we studied autoantibody-producing B cells over the course of BCDT. We developed a fluorescently labeled antigen to enrich for MuSK-specific B cells, which was validated with a novel Nalm6 cell line engineered to express a human MuSK-specific B cell receptor. B cells ( approximately equal to 2.6 million) from 12 different samples collected from nine MuSK MG patients were screened for MuSK specificity. We successfully isolated two MuSK-specific IgG4 subclass-expressing plasmablasts from two of these patients, who were experiencing a relapse after a BCDT-induced remission. Human recombinant MuSK mAbs were then generated to validate binding specificity and characterize their molecular properties. Both mAbs were strong MuSK binders, they recognized the Ig1-like domain of MuSK, and showed pathogenic capacity when tested in an acetylcholine receptor (AChR) clustering assay. The presence of persistent clonal relatives of these MuSK-specific B cell clones was investigated through B cell receptor repertoire tracing of 63,977 unique clones derived from longitudinal samples collected from these two patients. Clonal variants were detected at multiple timepoints spanning more than five years and reemerged after BCDT-mediated remission, predating disease relapse by several months. These findings demonstrate that a reservoir of rare pathogenic MuSK autoantibody-expressing B cell clones survive BCDT and reemerge into circulation prior to manifestation of clinical relapse. Overall, this study provides both a mechanistic understanding of MuSK MG relapse and a valuable candidate biomarker for relapse prediction.
Original languageEnglish
Article number154
Number of pages16
JournalActa neuropathologica communications
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 28 Oct 2022


  • Myasthenia gravis
  • Muscle-specific tyrosine kinase (MuSK)
  • B cells
  • Autoantibodies
  • B cell depletion therapy
  • Rituximab
  • MUSK


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