From the Journals

New trial shows thymectomy benefits myasthenia gravis

View on the News

More questions on the table

In the MGTX trial, patients in the thymectomy group still needed a high average dose of prednisone, and the rates of remission may decrease over time, Michael K. Hsin, MD, of Queen Mary Hospital, Hong Kong, wrote in his invited commentary (J Thorac Cardiovasc Surg. 2017;154:310-1). But he added that the trial did finally answer in a positive manner whether thymectomy could serve a beneficial role.

He also noted that the MGTX trial left at least four questions unanswered:

• The long-term effect of thymectomy on MG status with regard to future relapse.

• The role of surgery in the era of advances in medical treatment, including azathioprine to reduce the prednisone dose and emergence of stem-cell transplantation.

• The extent to which MGTX findings can be applied to acetylcholine receptor-negative pediatric patients.

• Whether alternative techniques to extended transsternal thymectomy can achieve comparable results.

Dr. Hsin had no financial relationships to disclose.



The effectiveness of thymectomy as a cure for myasthenia gravis has long been debated, but the publication of Myasthenia Gravis Thymectomy Treatment (MGTX) trial results, showing that thymectomy improved outcomes over 3 years in patients with nonthymomatous myasthenia gravis, has gone a long way toward settling the debate, Joshua R. Sonett, MD, and his coauthors noted in a feature expert opinion (J Thorac Cardiovasc Surg. 2017;154:306-9).

Dr. Joshua R. Sonett of Columbia University Medical Center, New York-Presbyterian Hospital

Dr. Joshua R. Sonett

“The results of this study unequivocally prove that extended transsternal thymectomy improves clinical outcomes of patients with generalized MG,” wrote Dr. Sonett of Columbia University Medical Center, New York-Presbyterian Hospital, and his coauthors. “Patients who were randomized to transsternal thymectomy had significantly improved symptoms of MG.”

Those markers include an average quantitative myasthenia score of 6.15 for the thymectomy group vs. 8.99 for the medical therapy group (P less than .0001); a lower dose of prednisone to attain improved neurologic status (44 mg vs. 60 mg; P less than .001); time-weighted average score on the Myasthenia Gravis Activities of Daily Living scale (2.24 vs. 3.41; P = .008); azathioprine use (17% vs. 48%; P less than .001); percentage of patients who had minimal-manifestation status at month 36 (67% vs. 47%; P = .03); and hospitalization for myasthenia-related symptoms (9% vs. 37%). “Interestingly,” the researchers wrote, “despite these quantitative results, no difference was seen in the quality of life measured surveys.”

An ancillary study, Bio-MGTX, was performed simultaneously to investigate pathologic and serum markers. “Many questions still need to be answered in regard to the role of thymectomy in MG,” Dr. Sonett and his coauthors maintained. They include an analysis of radiologic predictors of success with thymectomy, and the role of thymectomy in seronegative MG, ocular MG and elderly patients.

“Future studies may be directed at achieving a more rapid and consistent time to a complete symptom response,” they said.

The MGTX trial does support the use of high-dose prednisone induction combined with thymectomy to achieve higher complete early remission rates, but Bio-MGTX data may help to refine induction protocols. “The debate will likely continue in regard to widespread adoption of extended transsternal maximal thymectomy,” the researchers wrote. “What was categorically measured in this trial was the effect of maximal thymectomy, as sternotomy offers no particular independent therapeutic benefit.”

The structure of the MGTX trial despite its small cohort (126) “enabled the medical and surgical community to definitively answer an important question,” they noted. Nonetheless, further investigation of the role of thymectomy in MG is “sorely needed.”

Patients may need up to 3 years to achieve an optimal response, and complete cure in a shorter time frame should be the goal for each patient. Multimodal therapy should be the basis of MG treatment. “Continued progress in the management of MG will require diligent, multidisciplinary teams designing and completing prospective studies like the MGTX,” the researchers wrote.

Dr. Sonett and his coauthors had no financial relationships to disclose. The MGTX trial was funded by the U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. There was no commercial support for the trial.

Next Article: