B cell-depletion therapy, particularly using anti-CD20 treatment, has provided proof of concept that targeting B cells and the humoral response may result in clinical improvements in immune-mediated inflammatory disease. In this review, the mechanisms of action of B cell-targeting drugs are investigated, and potential biomarkers associated with response to treatment in patients with autoimmune diseases are identified. Most available data relate to B cell depletion using anti-CD20 therapy (rituximab) in patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Treatment leads to significant clinical benefit, but apparently fails to deplete long-lived plasma cells, and discontinuation is associated with relapse. Biomarkers commonly used in studies of B cell-targeted therapies include rheumatoid factor, anti-citrullinated peptide antibodies, and immunoglobulin (Ig) levels. More recently, there has been interest in markers such as B cell phenotype analysis, and B lymphocyte stimulator (BLyS)/a proliferation-inducing ligand (APRIL), the latter particularly in studies of the IgG Fc-transmembrane activator and CAML interactor (TACI) fusion protein (atacicept) and anti-BLyS therapy (belimumab). Data from clinical trials of B cell-depleting agents in RA suggest that specific autoantibodies, BLyS, APRIL, and circulating and synovial B lineage cell levels may have potential as biomarkers predictive of response to treatment. Further trials validating these markers against clinical outcomes in RA are required. In patients with systemic lupus erythematosus, Fc receptors and levels of circulating immune cells (including B cells and natural killer cells) may be relevant markers.
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