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Arthritis Rheum. 2012 Oct;64(10):3111-8. doi: 10.1002/art.34560.

Rituximab mediates loss of CD19 on B cells in the absence of cell death.

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Division of Rheumatology, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center and Dartmouth Medical School, Lebanon, New Hampshire 03756, USA.



To evaluate loss of the B cell-specific marker CD19 after the addition of rituximab (RTX) to healthy donor blood and to determine the role of complement-mediated cytotoxicity in these cells.


Whole blood and peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) from healthy donors were evaluated for the loss of CD19 in the presence of RTX using flow cytometry. The effect of complement on CD19 loss was examined using serum-free media, C3- and C5-deficient sera, and a C5-blocking antibody. Evidence of B cell death was evaluated by measuring messenger RNA (mRNA) levels as well as by flow cytometry. Transfer of CD19 antigen to monocytes and neutrophils was evaluated by flow cytometry and confocal microscopy.


RTX induced a rapid decrease in CD19 count (mean 51%; n = 37) in PBMCs. This reduction occurred in the absence of complement. Despite the decrease in CD19 expression, B cell death did not occur, as evidenced by a lack of change in CD19 or CD20 mRNA levels and a lack of change in CD19 levels determined by intracellular staining and through the use of viability dyes. The CD19 antigen was shown to be transferred to monocytes and neutrophils in an Fc-dependent manner.


Our findings indicate that the addition of RTX to healthy donor PBMCs in vitro results in complement-independent loss of CD19 without causing B cell death. CD19 is transferred from B cells to monocytes and neutrophils during shaving of the RTX-CD20 complex in an Fc-dependent manner. These data suggest that monitoring the effect of RTX by measuring the CD19+ cell count may be compromised by this activity.

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