The Charcot Lecture | beating MS: a story of B cells, with twists and turns

Mult Scler. 2015 Jan;21(1):8-21. doi: 10.1177/1352458514561911. Epub 2014 Dec 5.


Autoimmune B cells play a major role in mediating tissue damage in multiple sclerosis (MS). In MS, B cells are believed to cross the blood-brain barrier and undergo stimulation, antigen-driven affinity maturation and clonal expansion within the supportive CNS environment. These highly restricted populations of clonally expanded B cells and plasma cells can be detected in MS lesions, in cerebrospinal fluid, and also in peripheral blood. In phase II trials in relapsing MS, monoclonal antibodies that target circulating CD20-positive B lymphocytes dramatically reduced disease activity. These beneficial effects occurred within weeks of treatment, indicating that a direct effect on B cells--and likely not on putative autoantibodies--was responsible. The discovery that depletion of B cells has an impact on MS biology enabled a paradigm shift in understanding how the inflammatory phase of MS develops, and will hopefully lead to development of increasingly selective therapies against culprit B cells and related humoral immune system pathways. More broadly, these studies illustrate how lessons learned from the bedside have unique power to inform translational research. They highlight the essential role of clinician scientists, currently endangered, who navigate the rocky and often unpredictable terrain between the worlds of clinical medicine and biomedical research.

Keywords: Charcot Lecture; Multiple sclerosis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • B-Lymphocytes / drug effects
  • B-Lymphocytes / immunology*
  • Humans
  • Multiple Sclerosis / drug therapy
  • Multiple Sclerosis / immunology*