Mechanisms of killing by anti-CD20 monoclonal antibodies

Mol Immunol. 2007 Sep;44(16):3823-37. doi: 10.1016/j.molimm.2007.06.151.


CD20 is a cell-surface marker expressed on mature B cells and most malignant B cells, but not stem or plasma cells. It is an ideal target for monoclonal antibodies (mAb), such as rituximab and ofatumumab, as it is expressed at high levels on most B-cell malignancies, but does not become internalized or shed from the plasma membrane following mAb treatment. This allows mAb to persist on the cell surface for extended periods and deliver sustained immunological attack from complement and FcR-expressing innate effectors, particularly macrophages. CD20 can also generate transmembrane signals when engaged by certain mAb which, although unproven, might provide an important element of the therapeutic success of anti-CD20 mAb. These favourable characteristics have led to anti-CD20 mAb being developed and exploited for use in immunotherapy, where they have proven remarkably efficacious in both the treatment of malignant disease and autoimmune disorders by deleting malignant or normal B cells, respectively. In this review, we discuss how these mAb have driven research in the immunotherapy field over the last decade, detail their likely modes of action and their limitations in terms of effector exhaustion, and explore ways in which they might be enhanced and further exploited in the future.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal / immunology*
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal / pharmacology*
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal / therapeutic use
  • Antigens, CD20 / immunology*
  • B-Lymphocytes / cytology
  • B-Lymphocytes / drug effects
  • Cytotoxicity, Immunologic / drug effects*
  • Humans


  • Antibodies, Monoclonal
  • Antigens, CD20