Objective: To provide a comprehensive understanding of the humoral immune response that takes place at the site of inflammation in rheumatoid arthritis (RA), we studied the functional properties of synovial B cells. In particular, the response to various modes of mitogen stimulation was investigated.
Methods: Purified synovial fluid (SF) B cells were cultured in the presence of CD40 ligand (CD40L)-expressing fibroblasts and cytokines, activated T cells, or phorbol myristate acetate (PMA)/ionomycin. Proliferation was determined by 3H-thymidine incorporation. Release of intracellular calcium was studied by flow cytometry.
Results: The inflamed joints of RA patients contained a population of CD20+,CD38- B cells with dramatically impaired mitogen responsiveness. Although the Ig-producing capacity was intact, these cells failed to proliferate in response to (a) CD40 in the presence of interleukin-2 (IL-2) and IL-10, (b) activated T cells, or (c) stimulation via the B cell receptor. Moreover, SF CD20+,CD38- B cells revealed a defective B cell receptor-induced Ca2+ influx, reminiscent of anergic B cells. Release of intracellular Ca2+ by ionomycin in the presence of the protein kinase C activator PMA did not restore the proliferative capacity. These findings indicate blockades in the proximal and distal intermediates involved in mitogen signaling.
Conclusion: SF CD20+,CD38- B cells have functionally impaired proliferative responsiveness. The capacity of these cells to respond to activation by the production of Ig supports the notion that these cells might serve as Ig-producing effector cells and, as such, play a role in the pathophysiology of RA.