Biochemical and immunologic effects of rituximab in patients with primary biliary cirrhosis and an incomplete response to ursodeoxycholic acid

Hepatology. 2012 Feb;55(2):512-21. doi: 10.1002/hep.24748.


The aim of this study was to determine the safety and potential efficacy of B-cell depletion with the anti-CD20 monoclonal antibody rituximab in patients with primary biliary cirrhosis (PBC) and an incomplete response to ursodeoxycholic acid (UDCA). This open-label study enrolled six patients with PBC and incomplete responses to UDCA to be treated with 2 doses of 1000 mg rituximab separated by 2 weeks and followed for 52 weeks. The primary endpoints were safety and changes in B-cell function. Two patients received only 1 dose of rituximab, one due to activation of latent varicella and the other due to a viral upper respiratory infection. Serum levels of total IgG, IgM, and IgA as well as anti-mitochondrial autoantibodies (AMAs) IgA and IgM decreased significantly from baseline by 16 weeks and returned to baseline levels by 36 weeks. Stimulation of B cells with CpG produced significantly less IgM at 52 weeks after treatment compared with B cells at baseline. In addition, transient decreases in memory B-cell and T-cell frequencies and an increase in CD25(high) CD4(+) T cells were observed after treatment. These changes were associated with significant increases in mRNA levels of FoxP3 and transforming growth factor-β (TGF-β) and a decrease in tumor necrosis factor-α (TNF-α) in CD4(+) T cells. Notably, serum alkaline phosphatase levels were significantly reduced up to 36 weeks following rituximab treatment.

Conclusion: These data suggest that depletion of B cells influences the induction, maintenance, and activation of both B and T cells and provides a potential mechanism for treatment of patients with PBC with an incomplete response to UDCA.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Alkaline Phosphatase / blood
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal, Murine-Derived / pharmacology
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal, Murine-Derived / therapeutic use*
  • Autoantibodies / blood
  • B-Lymphocytes / drug effects*
  • CD4 Lymphocyte Count
  • Cholagogues and Choleretics / therapeutic use
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immunologic Factors / pharmacology
  • Immunologic Factors / therapeutic use*
  • Immunophenotyping
  • Liver / enzymology
  • Liver Cirrhosis, Biliary / drug therapy*
  • Liver Cirrhosis, Biliary / immunology
  • Liver Cirrhosis, Biliary / metabolism
  • Middle Aged
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism
  • Rituximab
  • T-Lymphocytes / metabolism
  • Treatment Failure
  • Ursodeoxycholic Acid / therapeutic use


  • Antibodies, Monoclonal, Murine-Derived
  • Autoantibodies
  • Cholagogues and Choleretics
  • Immunologic Factors
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Rituximab
  • Ursodeoxycholic Acid
  • Alkaline Phosphatase