Drug insight: rituximab in renal disease and transplantation

Nat Clin Pract Nephrol. 2006 Apr;2(4):221-30. doi: 10.1038/ncpneph0133.


Rituximab, a monoclonal antibody directed against the CD20 molecule found on pre-B cells and mature B cells (but not on plasma cells), was introduced in the late 1990s for the treatment of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Recently, this antibody has been used to treat autoimmune diseases, especially those associated with a prominent humoral component and with potentially pathogenic autoantibodies. Small cohort studies have indicated that rituximab could have an important role in the management of these disorders. Rituximab has also been utilized in the transplant setting, to diminish levels of alloreactive antibodies in highly sensitized patients, to manage ABO-incompatible transplants, and to treat rejection associated with B cells and antibodies. The exact mechanism by which rituximab exerts its effects in autoimmunity and transplantation remains unclear, as specific autoantibody or alloantibody levels often seem not to diminish in parallel with clinical improvement. A role for rituximab in depleting B cells and compromising their antigen-presenting function seems likely; rituximab might also inhibit T-cell activation. A synergistic effect has been noted in vitro following administration of corticosteroids to B-cell lines, with accentuation of B-cell cytotoxicity; this observation might be relevant to certain studies, as some regimens have utilized both agents simultaneously. This article reviews the current use of rituximab in renal disease and transplantation, and includes discussion of the drug's potential role in novel therapeutic protocols.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antibodies, Monoclonal / pharmacology*
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal / therapeutic use*
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal, Murine-Derived
  • Autoimmune Diseases / drug therapy
  • Autoimmunity / drug effects
  • B-Lymphocytes / drug effects
  • Erythropoietin / adverse effects
  • Glomerulonephritis, Membranous / drug therapy
  • Glomerulonephritis, Membranous / immunology
  • Glomerulosclerosis, Focal Segmental / drug therapy
  • Graft Rejection / drug therapy
  • Humans
  • Immunologic Factors / therapeutic use*
  • Kidney Diseases / drug therapy*
  • Kidney Diseases / immunology
  • Kidney Transplantation* / immunology
  • Lupus Erythematosus, Systemic / drug therapy
  • Lupus Erythematosus, Systemic / immunology
  • Lymphoproliferative Disorders / etiology
  • Recombinant Proteins
  • Red-Cell Aplasia, Pure / chemically induced
  • Red-Cell Aplasia, Pure / drug therapy
  • Rituximab
  • Vasculitis / drug therapy
  • Vasculitis / immunology


  • Antibodies, Monoclonal
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal, Murine-Derived
  • Immunologic Factors
  • Recombinant Proteins
  • Erythropoietin
  • Rituximab