Objective: Regulatory B cells (Bregs) constitute a subset of B cells with immunomodulatory properties. Numerical and functional alterations in the Breg compartment have been associated with autoimmunity. The aim of this study was to assess the frequency and function of Bregs in patients with ANCA-associated vasculitis (AAV).
Methods: B cell subsets were determined in the peripheral blood of 48 AAV patients (12 active, 36 in remission) and 41 healthy controls (HCs) by flow cytometry. Bregs were defined within the CD19(+) population as CD24(hi)CD38(hi) or CD24(hi)CD27(+) cells. The percentage of IL-10-positive B cells in circulation was analysed by flow cytometry. Sorted CD19(+) B cells were co-cultured with monocytes to evaluate their capacity to inhibit monocyte TNF-α production upon lipopolysaccharide stimulation.
Results: The frequency of circulating CD19(+)CD24(hi)CD38(hi) cells was not different in AAV patients in remission compared with HCs, but was decreased in patients with active disease [mean in HCs 5.5% (s.d. 1.6) vs active 3.8% (s.d. 2.8), P = 0.0104]. Furthermore, the percentage of CD19(+)CD24(hi)CD27(+) cells was significantly decreased in both remission and active patients when compared with HCs [HCs 15.0% (s.d. 9.3) vs remission 6.6% (s.d. 4.4) (P < 0.0001) vs active 6.4% (s.d. 6.2) (P = 0.0006)]. The frequency of IL-10-positive B cells was comparable between patients and HCs. B cells from AAV patients suppressed monocyte TNF-α production to a similar extent to cells from HCs.
Conclusion: Based on immunophenotypic classification, Bregs are numerically diminished in AAV patients. However, B cell function in terms of IL-10 production and their capacity to suppress monocyte activation is not compromised in AAV patients in remission.
Keywords: ANCA-associated vasculitis; B cells; IL-10; regulatory B cells.
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