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Ocular myasthenia gravis. A critical review of clinical and pathophysiological aspects.

Myasthenia gravis (MG) is probably the best studied autoimmune disease caused by autoantibodies against the acetylcholine receptor (AChR) at the neuromuscular junction, subsequently leading to abnormal fatigability and weakness of skeletal muscle. Extraocular muscle weakness with droopy eyelids and double vision is present in about 90% of MG patients, being the initial complaint in about 50%. In approximately 20% of the patients the disease will always be confined to the extraocular muscles. The single most important diagnostic test is the detection of serum antibodies against AChR which is positive in 90% of patients with generalized MG, but only in 65% with purely ocular MG. Electromyographic studies and the Tensilon test are of diagnostic value in clear-cut cases, but may be equivocal in purely ocular myasthenia, especially the latter not rarely producing false-positive results. Treatment response to corticosteroids and anti-cholinesterase agents is satisfactory in many patients with ocular MG, however other immunosuppressive drugs may also be needed. Pathogenetically relevant steps of the underlying autoimmune process have been elucidated during the last few years; nevertheless a number of questions remain open, especially what starts off the autoimmune process, and why are eye muscles so frequently involved in MG?

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