B cell depletion therapy in systemic lupus erythematosus

Curr Rheumatol Rep. 2003 Oct;5(5):350-6. doi: 10.1007/s11926-003-0020-x.


There is a growing body of experimental evidence that B lymphocytes play a central role in the pathogenesis of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). B cells are, by definition, the precursors of antibody-secreting cells, and thus are the source of pathogenic autoantibodies. However, recent data indicate that B cells are not merely the passive producers of immunoglobulins, but also play a central role in autoimmunity via nonconventional mechanisms, including autoantigen presentation and modulation of other immune cells. Thus, B lymphocyte depletion has recently emerged as a promising therapeutic approach to the treatment of autoimmune diseases, including SLE. Rituximab is a chimeric mouse-human monoclonal antibody against the B cell-specific antigen CD20, which selectively and profoundly depletes B lymphocytes and has been widely used to treat B cell lymphomas. Recent open-label studies indicate that rituximab is safe and may be efficacious in the treatment of SLE, and continued study with randomized clinical trials is justified.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal / therapeutic use*
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal, Murine-Derived
  • Autoimmune Diseases / therapy
  • B-Lymphocytes* / drug effects
  • B-Lymphocytes* / immunology
  • Humans
  • Lupus Erythematosus, Systemic / immunology
  • Lupus Erythematosus, Systemic / therapy*
  • Lymphocyte Depletion*
  • Rituximab


  • Antibodies, Monoclonal
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal, Murine-Derived
  • Rituximab