B-cell targeted therapies in rheumatoid arthritis and systemic lupus erythematosus

Nat Clin Pract Rheumatol. 2006 Jan;2(1):20-7. doi: 10.1038/ncprheum0042.


B cells appear to have a central role in the immunopathogenesis of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE); both autoantibody production and B-cell anomalies are characteristic of these diseases. With the recent availability of biologic agents that can deplete B cells or block their function in vivo, it has become possible to target B cells therapeutically. Evidence strongly suggests that novel B-cell targeting agents are effective. In addition, the mechanistic specificity of B-cell targeted approaches, combined with the ability to test them in large randomized controlled trials, will provide an unprecedented opportunity to study the precise roles of B cells in the immunopathogenesis of RA and SLE. The largest volume of information is available for rituximab, a chimeric monoclonal antibody that depletes B cells by binding to the CD20 cell-surface antigen. Information from multiple investigator-sponsored trials and from off-label use suggests efficacy of this antibody in RA, SLE, and other autoimmune syndromes. Randomized controlled trials have also provided solid evidence for the efficacy of rituximab in RA and are ongoing in SLE. Other therapeutic agents supported by controlled data include cytotoxic T-lymphocyte-associated protein 4 immunoglobulin and antibodies against the interleukin-6 receptor and the B-cell survival molecule BLyS. Additional agents and targets are in earlier stages of development. The concerns about infectious complications have so far not proven to be justified. We can reasonably expect important advances in the understanding and treatment of RA and SLE in the next 5-10 years, as B-cell targeting methods become more widespread and sophisticated.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal / therapeutic use
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal, Murine-Derived
  • Antigens, CD / immunology*
  • Antigens, CD20 / immunology
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / drug therapy*
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / immunology*
  • Autoantibodies / immunology
  • Autoimmune Diseases / immunology
  • B-Lymphocytes / immunology*
  • Humans
  • Leukocyte Reduction Procedures / methods
  • Lupus Erythematosus, Systemic / drug therapy*
  • Lupus Erythematosus, Systemic / immunology*
  • Peptides, Cyclic / immunology
  • Rituximab
  • Sialic Acid Binding Ig-like Lectin 2 / immunology


  • Antibodies, Monoclonal
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal, Murine-Derived
  • Antigens, CD
  • Antigens, CD20
  • Autoantibodies
  • Peptides, Cyclic
  • Sialic Acid Binding Ig-like Lectin 2
  • cyclic citrullinated peptide
  • Rituximab