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Arthritis Rheum. 2013 Apr;65(4):1085-96. doi: 10.1002/art.37828.

Expansion of autoreactive unresponsive CD21-/low B cells in Sjögren's syndrome-associated lymphoproliferation.

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CNRS UMR 7211, INSERM U959, Groupe Hospitalier Pitié-Salpêtrière, and Université Pierre et Marie Curie, Paris 6, Paris, France.



Primary Sjögren's syndrome (SS) is an autoimmune disease associated with a high risk of developing non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. This study was undertaken to determine the nature of B cells driving lymphoproliferation in primary SS.


B cell subsets and function were analyzed in peripheral blood from 66 adult patients with primary SS (including 14 patients with B cell lymphoproliferative disease [LPD]) and 30 healthy donors, using flow cytometry, calcium mobilization, and gene array analysis. The reactivity of recombinant antibodies isolated from single B cells from patients with primary SS and LPD was tested using an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay.


We observed an expansion of an unusual CD21-/low B cell population that correlated with lymphoproliferation in patients with primary SS. A majority of CD21-/low B cells from patients with primary SS expressed autoreactive antibodies, which recognized nuclear and cytoplasmic structures. These B cells belonged to the memory compartment, since their Ig genes were mutated. They were unable to induce calcium flux, become activated, or proliferate in response to B cell receptor and/or CD40 triggering, suggesting that these autoreactive B cells may be anergic. However, CD21-/low B cells from patients with primary SS remained responsive to Toll-like receptor (TLR) stimulation. Molecules specifically expressed in CD21-/low B cells that are likely to induce their unresponsive stage were detected in gene array analyses.


Patients with primary SS who display high frequencies of autoreactive and unresponsive CD21-/low B cells are susceptible to developing lymphoproliferation. These cells remain in peripheral blood controlled by functional anergy instead of being eliminated, and chronic antigenic stimulation through TLR stimulation may create a favorable environment for breaking tolerance and activating these cells.

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