At a Glance
Why Get Tested?
To help diagnose myasthenia gravis (MG) and to distinguish between MG and other conditions with similar symptoms; sometimes to monitor MG
When to Get Tested?
When you have symptoms that suggest MG, such as a drooping eyelid, double vision, difficulty chewing or swallowing, and/or weakness in specific muscles
A blood sample drawn from a vein in your arm
Test Preparation Needed?
The Test Sample
What is being tested?
Acetylcholine receptor (AChR) antibodies are autoantibodies produced by the immune system that mistakenly target proteins called acetylcholine receptors that are located on skeletal muscle fibers. This test detects and measures AChR antibodies in the blood.
Acetylcholine receptors function as "docking stations" for acetylcholine, a chemical substance (neurotransmitter) that transmits messages between nerve cells. Muscle movement starts when an impulse is sent down a nerve to the nerve ending, where it stimulates the release of acetylcholine. Acetylcholine travels across a microscopic gap between the nerve ending and a muscle fiber at the "neuromuscular junction." When it reaches the muscle fiber, it binds to one of many acetylcholine receptors and activates it, initiating muscle contraction.
AchR antibodies impede communication between nerves and skeletal muscles, inhibit muscle contraction, and cause rapid muscle fatigue by preventing activation of the acetylcholine receptors. They do this in three major ways:
- When they bind to the receptors, the antibodies may initiate an inflammatory reaction that destroys them.
- The antibodies may sit on the receptors, preventing acetylcholine from binding.
- The antibodies may cross-link the receptors, causing them to be taken up into the muscle cell and removed from the neuromuscular junction.
The end result of this interference is the development of myasthenia gravis (MG), a chronic autoimmune disorder associated with the presence of these antibodies and with their effects on muscle control.
AchR antibodies may be detected in different ways to determine which mechanism may be the problem in a particular individual, and the antibodies may be referred to as "binding," "blocking," or "modulating." However, the technique that measures "binding" is the most commonly performed and, generally speaking, it is rare for the other two tests to be positive without the "binding" test being positive as well. These other approaches may be useful when the doctor strongly suspects myasthenia gravis and the "binding" test is negative.
How is the sample collected for testing?
A blood sample is obtained by inserting a needle into a vein in the arm.
NOTE: If undergoing medical tests makes you or someone you care for anxious, embarrassed, or even difficult to manage, you might consider reading one or more of the following articles: Coping with Test Pain, Discomfort, and Anxiety, Tips on Blood Testing, Tips to Help Children through Their Medical Tests, and Tips to Help the Elderly through Their Medical Tests.
Another article, Follow That Sample, provides a glimpse at the collection and processing of a blood sample and throat culture.
Is any test preparation needed to ensure the quality of the sample?
No test preparation is needed.
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NOTE: This article is based on research that utilizes the sources cited here as well as the collective experience of the Lab Tests Online Editorial Review Board. This article is periodically reviewed by the Editorial Board and may be updated as a result of the review. Any new sources cited will be added to the list and distinguished from the original sources used.
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