The B cell-depleting IgG1 monoclonal antibody rituximab can persistently suppress disease progression in some patients with autoimmune diseases. However, the mechanism underlying these long-term beneficial effects has remained unclear. Here, we evaluated Ig gene usage in patients with anti-myelin-associated glycoprotein (anti-MAG) neuropathy, an autoimmune disease of the peripheral nervous system that is mediated by IgM autoantibodies binding to MAG antigen. Patients with anti-MAG neuropathy showed substantial clonal expansions of blood IgM memory B cells that recognized MAG antigen. The group of patients showing no clinical improvement after rituximab therapy were distinguished from clinical responders by a higher load of clonal IgM memory B cell expansions before and after therapy, by persistence of clonal expansions despite efficient peripheral B cell depletion, and by a lack of substantial changes in somatic hypermutation frequencies of IgM memory B cells. We infer from these data that the effectiveness of rituximab therapy depends on efficient depletion of noncirculating B cells and is associated with qualitative immunological changes that indicate reconfiguration of B cell memory through sustained reduction of autoreactive clonal expansions. These findings support the continued development of B cell-depleting therapies for autoimmune diseases.
Recommended CitationMaurer, Michael A; Rakocevic, Goran; Leung, Carol S; Quast, Isaak; Lukačišin, Martin; Goebels, Norbert; Münz, Christian; Wardemann, Hedda; Dalakas, Marinos; and Lünemann, Jan D, "Rituximab induces sustained reduction of pathogenic B cells in patients with peripheral nervous system autoimmunity." (2012). Department of Neurology Faculty Papers. Paper 47.