B-cells play a pivotal role in primary Sjögren's syndrome (pSS) pathogenesis. We aim to (1) evaluate the distribution of B-lymphocyte subpopulations in pSS and Sicca patients, (2) establish cut-off points that discriminate pSS from controls, (3) evaluate the association between memory B-cells and phenotypic features in pSS. We included 57 pSS patients, 68 Sicca and 24 healthy controls. Circulating B-cells were characterized by flow cytometry as naïve and memory subsets and classified from Bm1 to Bm5. Compared to controls, pSS patients had lower percentages (29.5 vs 44.4%) and absolute numbers (47 vs 106 cells/µl) of memory B-cells. Through ROC curves, a cut-off of ≤ 58 total memory B-cells/µl yielded a specificity of 0.88 and a sensitivity of 0.60 for pSS, and was met by 59.6% of pSS patients, 38.8% of Sicca and 12.5% of controls. A cut-off of < 23.5 Switched-memory B-cells/µl yielded a specificity of 0.88 and a sensitivity of 0.54 and was met by 54.4% of pSS patients, 37.3% of Sicca and 12.5% of controls. In pSS, lower total memory B-cells count was associated with longer disease duration (14.3 vs 8.1 years, p = 0.006) and more active disease profile, as evaluated by the European League Against Rheumatism (EULAR) Sjögren's Syndrome Disease Activity Index (ESSDAI) (3.1 vs 1.4, p = 0.043). Decreased numbers of memory B-cells clearly discriminated pSS from controls and can also have prognostic value. It remains to be clarified whether Sicca patients with decreased memory B-cells represent pSS and if B-cell profiling could help in the diagnosis of pSS.
Keywords: Autoimmunity; Diagnosis; Flow cytometry; Memory B cells; Sjögren’s syndrome.