Translational Mini-Review Series on B Cell-Directed Therapies: The pathogenic role of B cells in autoantibody-associated autoimmune diseases--lessons from B cell-depletion therapy

Clin Exp Immunol. 2009 Aug;157(2):191-7. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2249.2009.03978.x.


B cell depletion therapy with rituximab (BCDT) is a licensed treatment for rheumatoid arthritis and has shown promising results in the treatment of severe, refractory patients with other autoantibody-associated autoimmune diseases (AAID). The exact role that B cells play in the pathogenesis of AAID and consequently the mechanisms by which BCDT is effective are not known. The two more widely discussed hypotheses are that BCDT is effective because it removes the precursors of plasma cells producing pathogenic autoantibody species, or because it depletes a critical mass of autoreactive B cell clones that present antigen to pathogenic autoreactive T cells. This review will focus on the effects of BCDT and whether the response of patients with AAID to BCDT could be due ultimately to its effects on autoantibodies. A better knowledge of the main role that B cells play in the pathogenesis of the different diseases and a better understanding of the most likely mechanism of relapse following an earlier response to BCDT would help to guide further developments of B cell targeting therapies and potentially increase the chance of designing a protocol that could induce a long-term remission.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antigen Presentation
  • Autoantibodies / immunology*
  • Autoimmune Diseases / immunology*
  • Autoimmune Diseases / therapy
  • B-Lymphocytes / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Immunotherapy / methods
  • Lymphocyte Depletion


  • Autoantibodies