MDA awarded a research grant totaling $390,000 over three years to Lin Mei, professor and director of the Institute of Molecular Medicine and Genetics at Georgia Health Sciences University in Augusta. The funds will help support Mei’s research on the role of a protein called LRP4 in myasthenia gravis (MG).
MG is an autoimmune disease — a disease that occurs when the immune system attacks the body's own tissues. The attack occurs at the neuromuscular junction (NMJ), the space where signals pass between muscle and nerve.
Symptoms include weakness in muscles that control the eyes, face, neck and limbs; partial paralysis of eye movements; double vision and droopy eyelids; and weakness and fatigue in the neck and jaws with problems in chewing, swallowing and holding up the head.
Most MG occurs when the immune system uses special proteins called antibodies to target either the acetylcholine (ACh) receptor, or muscle-specific kinase (MuSK), a protein that helps organize ACh receptors on the muscle cell surface. But approximately 10 percent of people with the disease are seronegative for antibodies to the ACh receptor or MuSK, meaning the antibodies aren't detectable in their blood.
In preliminary studies, Mei and colleagues have identified an antibody against a protein called LRP4 in people with seronegative MG. (LRP4 is known to play a role in formation and maintenance of the NMJ.)
Now the group is studying the possible role and mechanisms of LRP4 in seronegative MG.
"Such information should contribute to a better understanding of seronegative MG and development of novel diagnostic and therapeutic means for this devastating disease," Mei says.
Funding for this MDA grant began Aug. 1, 2012.