Background: A recent in vitro pilot investigation reported Rituximab significantly reduced natural killer (NK) cell cytotoxicity in healthy donors. Chronic fatigue syndrome/Myalgic encephalomyelitis (CFS/ME) is a debilitating disorder of unknown etiology. A consistent finding is a significant reduction in NK cell cytotoxicity. Rituximab has been reported having questionable potential therapeutic benefits for the treatment of CFS/ME, however, the potential effects of Rituximab on NK cell cytotoxicity in CFS/ME patients are yet to be determined.
Methods: A total of eight CFS/ME patients (48.63 ± 15.69 years) and nine non-fatigued controls (NFC) (37.56 ± 11.06 years) were included using the Fukuda case definition. Apoptotic function, lytic proteins and degranulation markers were measured on isolated NK cells using flow cytometry following overnight incubation with Rituximab at 10 μg/ml and 100 μg/ml.
Results: There was a significant reduction in NK cell lysis between CFS/ME patients and NFC following incubation with Rituximab at 100 μg/ml at 12.5:1 and 6.25:1 effecter-target (E:T) ratios (p < 0.05). However, there was no significant difference for NFC following incubation with Rituximab at 10 μg/ml and 100 μg/ml. There was no significant difference between CFS/ME patients and NFC for granzyme A and granzyme B prior to incubation with Rituximab and following overnight incubation with Rituximab at 10 μg/ml. There was a significant decrease in granzyme B in CFS/ME patients compared to NFC with 100 μg/ml of Rituximab prior to K562 cells stimulation (p < 0.05). There was a significant increase in CD107a (p < 0.05) and CD107b expression (p < 0.01) in NFC after stimulation with K562 cells prior to incubation with Rituximab. There was a significant increase in CD107b expression between CFS/ME patients and NFC prior to incubation with Rituximab and without stimulation of K562 cells (p < 0.01). Importantly, there was a significant increase in CD107b following overnight incubation with 100 μg/ml of Rituximab in NFC prior to K562 cells stimulation (p < 0.01).
Conclusion: This study reports significant decreases in NK cell lysis and a significant increase in NK cell degranulation following Rituximab incubation in vitro in CFS/ME patients, suggesting Rituximab may be toxic for NK cells. Caution should be observed in clinical trials until further investigations in a safe and controlled in vitro setting are completed.
Keywords: Chronic fatigue syndrome; Cytotoxicity; Degranulation; Lytic proteins; Myalgic encephalomyelitis; Natural killer cells; Rituximab.