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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2010 Mar 9;107(10):4658-63. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1001074107. Epub 2010 Feb 22.

Rituximab specifically depletes short-lived autoreactive plasma cells in a mouse model of inflammatory arthritis.

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  • 1Section on Immunology and Immunogenetics, Joslin Diabetes Center, Boston, MA 02215, USA.


There is increasing appreciation of the important role of B cells in many autoimmune diseases and consequently, increasing interest in treating these disorders through B cell-depletion therapy with rituximab, an anti-CD20 monoclonal antibody. Yet, precisely how this and related drugs exert their therapeutic effects remains controversial. In particular, it is unclear how, in a number of contexts, rituximab can greatly reduce the titer of serum autoantibodies without substantially altering the overall antibody titer. We have studied the action of this drug in the K/BxN mouse model of inflammatory arthritis after first crossing in a human CD20 transgene. Rituximab treatment of these mice led to a decrease in the titer of serum antibodies targeting glucose-6-phosphate isomerase, the relevant autoantigen, but not in the total antibody titer. Glucose-6-phosphate isomerase-specific plasma cells did not reside primarily in the bone marrow as expected but rather in the spleen and lymph nodes, where they had short lives, expressed CD20, and were rapidly depleted by rituximab. These data support a model whereby autoreactive plasma cells (at least certain specificities thereof) are intrinsically different from protective antimicrobial plasma cells in their differentiation, migration, and survival properties. Rituximab targets the former and spares the latter.

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