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.
Copyright © 2011 American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases.