B lymphocyte depletion in rheumatoid arthritis: targeting of CD20

Curr Dir Autoimmun. 2005;8:175-92. doi: 10.1159/000082103.


Background: During the 1990s evidence emerged to suggest that B lymphocyte depletion in rheumatoid arthritis (RA) might be of major benefit.

Methods and results: In 1997 the B lympholytic monoclonal anti-CD20 antibody rituximab became available. Significant clinical efficacy has been demonstrated in RA, initially in open studies at University College London and recently in a multicentre randomised controlled trial. Forty RA patients at University College London have now received in total 75 treatment cycles with rituximab (up to 4 individually) alone or in combination with corticosteroid, cyclophosphamide and/or methotrexate. Ongoing immunodynamic studies of these patients have shed light on a number of questions about both the therapeutic potential of B cell targeting, and the pathogenesis of RA.

Conclusions: The effects of B lymphocyte depletion lend increasing support to the idea that both the inflammatory effector mechanism and the underlying immunoregulatory disturbance in RA are driven by autoantibody rather than T cells.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Multicenter Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones / therapeutic use
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal / adverse effects
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal / therapeutic use
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal, Murine-Derived
  • Antigens, CD20 / metabolism*
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / drug therapy
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / immunology*
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / therapy*
  • B-Lymphocytes / immunology*
  • Combined Modality Therapy
  • Cyclophosphamide / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Lymphocyte Depletion* / adverse effects
  • Methotrexate / therapeutic use
  • Models, Immunological
  • Rheumatoid Factor / blood
  • Rituximab


  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal, Murine-Derived
  • Antigens, CD20
  • Rituximab
  • Cyclophosphamide
  • Rheumatoid Factor
  • Methotrexate