History of Myasthenia Gravis Revisited

Deymeer F.

NOROPSIKIYATRI ARSIVI-ARCHIVES OF NEUROPSYCHIATRY, vol.58, no.2, pp.154-162, 2021 (SCI-Expanded) identifier identifier identifier identifier

  • Publication Type: Article / Review
  • Volume: 58 Issue: 2
  • Publication Date: 2021
  • Doi Number: 10.29399/npa.27315
  • Journal Indexes: Science Citation Index Expanded (SCI-EXPANDED), Scopus, Academic Search Premier, CINAHL, EMBASE, Psycinfo, TR DİZİN (ULAKBİM)
  • Page Numbers: pp.154-162
  • Istanbul University Affiliated: Yes


The first description of myasthenia gravis (MG) was given by Thomas Willis in 1672. MG was the focus of attention after mid-nineteenth century and a great amount of information has been accumulated in a span of 150 years. The aim of this review is to convey this information according to a particular systematic and to briefly relate the experience of Istanbul University. MG history was examined in four periods: 1868-1930, 1930-1960, 1960-1990, and 1990-2020. In the first period (7868-7930), all the clinical characteristics of MG were defined. Physiological/pharmacological studies on the transmission at the neuromuscular junction were initiated, and the concept of repetitive nerve stimulation emerged. A toxic agent was believed to be the cause of MG which appeared to resemble curare intoxication. Association of MG with thymus was noticed. No noteworthy progress was made in its treatment. In the second period (1930-1960), acetylcholine was discovered to be the transmitter at the neuromuscular junction. Repetitive nerve stimulation was used as a diagnostic test. The autoimmune nature of MG was suspected and experiments to this end started to give results. The hallmark of this period was the use of anticholinesterases and thymectomy in the treatment of MG. The third period (1960-1990) can probably be considered a revolutionary era for MG. Important immunological mechanisms (acetylcholine receptor isolation, discovery of anti-acetylcholine receptor antibodies) were clarified and the autoimmune nature of MG was demonstrated. Treatment modalities which completely changed the prognosis of MG, including positive pressure mechanic ventilation and corticosteroids as well as plasma exchange/Mg and azathioprine, were put to use. In the fourth period (1990-2020), more immunological progress, including the discovery of anti-MuSK antibodies, was achieved. Videothoracoscopic thymectomy reduced the morbidity and mortality rate associated with surgery. New drugs emerged and clinical trials were performed. Valuable guidelines were published. In the last part of the review, the experience in MG of Istanbul University, a pioneer in Turkey, is related.