Introduction: As a group, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) patients exhibit increased risk of infection, and those treated with anti-tumor necrosis factor (TNF) therapy are at further risk. This increased susceptibility may result from a compromised humoral immune response. Therefore, we asked if short-term effector (d5-d10) and memory (1 month or later) B cell responses to antigen were compromised in RA patients treated with anti-TNF therapy.
Methods: Peripheral blood samples were obtained from RA patients, including a subset treated with anti-TNF, and from healthy controls to examine influenza-specific responses following seasonal influenza vaccination. Serum antibody was measured by hemagglutination inhibition assay. The frequency of influenza vaccine-specific antibody secreting cells and memory B cells was measured by EliSpot. Plasmablast (CD19+IgD-CD27hiCD38hi) induction was measured by flow cytometry.
Results: Compared with healthy controls, RA patients treated with anti-TNF exhibited significantly decreased influenza-specific serum antibody and memory B cell responses throughout multiple years of the study. The short-term influenza-specific effector B cell response was also significantly decreased in RA patients treated with anti-TNF as compared with healthy controls, and correlated with decreased influenza-specific memory B cells and serum antibody present at one month following vaccination.
Conclusions: RA patients treated with anti-TNF exhibit a compromised immune response to influenza vaccine, consisting of impaired effector and consequently memory B cell and antibody responses. The results suggest that the increased incidence and severity of infection observed in this patient population could be a consequence of diminished antigen-responsiveness. Therefore, this patient population would likely benefit from repeat vaccination and from vaccines with enhanced immunogenicity.