Objective: Rituximab, a monoclonal antibody specifically targeting CD20, induces B cell depletion and is effective in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis (RA). This study was undertaken to evaluate whether routine monitoring of lymphocyte subpopulations, especially T cells, may be useful in patients receiving rituximab for RA.
Methods: We examined data on all RA patients receiving rituximab between July 2007 and November 2012 in our center. Peripheral blood CD3+, CD4+, CD8+, CD3-CD56+, and CD19+ lymphocyte counts before and during the first course of rituximab were measured by flow cytometry. The Mann-Whitney nonparametric test was used to compare lymphocyte subpopulation counts before and during treatment.
Results: Data on 52 patients were examined. Rituximab induced unexpected and substantial depletion of T cells, mainly CD4+ cells, in most patients. The CD4+ cell count decreased by a mean ± SD of 37 ± 33% as compared to baseline at week 12, reaching <200 cells/μl in 3 patients. Importantly, lack of CD4+ cell depletion was associated with no clinical response. Therefore, the mechanism of action of rituximab may depend at least in part on T cells.
Conclusion: Rituximab induces substantial T cell depletion, mainly of CD4+ cells, which is associated with the clinical response in RA. Routine monitoring of T cells may be useful in the clinical setting of RA.
Copyright © 2013 by the American College of Rheumatology.