Clinical and experimental immunology

Usefulness of monitoring of B cell depletion in rituximab-treated rheumatoid arthritis patients in order to predict clinical relapse: a prospective observational study.

PMID 25370437


Our objective was to evaluate the contribution of monitoring B cell subset depletion after rituximab in patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) in order to guide reintroduction to forestall relapse. This prospective, monocentre study included all RA patients receiving two 1-g rituximab infusions at a 15-day interval. The patients were followed clinically and biologically every 2 months until rituximab reintroduction. The physician was blinded to lymphocyte-typing results to diagnose relapse and, hence, retreatment. Among the 39 patients included between March 2010 and December 2011 and followed until April 2013, seven received two rituximab cycles, yielding a total of 46 cycles for analysis. After the two rituximab cycles, the total number of CD19(+) B cells decreased significantly (0·155 versus 0·0002 G/l, P < 0·0001), with complete depletions in all patients of CD19(+) CD38(++) CD24(++) (transitional) (P < 0·0001) and CD19(+) CD27(+) (memory) B lymphocytes. A significant majority of patients relapsed within the 4 months following repopulation of total B (P = 0·036), B transitional (P = 0·007) and B memory (P = 0·01) lymphocytes. CD19(+) B lymphocyte repopulation preceded clinical RA relapse and enabled its prediction 4 months in advance. Hence, monitoring of CD19(+) B lymphocytes could serve as a tool to predict those relapses.