Infliximab-Tumor Necrosis Factor Complexes Elicit Formation of Anti-Drug Antibodies

Gastroenterology. 2019 Nov;157(5):1338-1351.e8. doi: 10.1053/j.gastro.2019.08.009. Epub 2019 Aug 8.


Background & aims: Some patients develop anti-drug antibodies (ADAs), which reduce the efficacy of infliximab, a monoclonal antibody against tumor necrosis factor (TNF), in the treatment of immune-mediated diseases, including inflammatory bowel diseases. ADAs arise inconsistently, and it is not clear what factors determine their formation. We investigated features of the immune system, the infliximab antibody, and its complex with TNF that might contribute to ADA generation.

Methods: C57BL/6 mice were given injections of infliximab and recombinant human TNF or infliximab F(ab')2 fragments. Blood samples were collected every 2-3 days for 2 weeks and weekly thereafter for up to 6 weeks; infliximab-TNF complexes and ADAs were measured by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA). Intestinal biopsy and blood samples were obtained from patients having endoscopy who had received infliximab therapy for inflammatory bowel diseases; infliximab-TNF complexes were measured with ELISA. Infliximab-specific plasma cells were detected in patient tissue samples by using mass cytometry. We studied activation of innate immune cells in peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) from healthy donors incubated with infliximab or infliximab-TNF complexes; toll-like receptors (TLRs) were blocked with antibodies, endocytosis was blocked with the inhibitor PitStop2, and cytokine expression was measured by real-time polymerase chain reaction and ELISAs. Uptake of infliximab and infliximab-TNF complexes by THP-1 cells was measured with confocal microscopy.

Results: Mice given increasing doses of infliximab produced increasing levels of ADAs. Blood samples from mice given injections of human TNF and infliximab contained infliximab-TNF complexes; complex formation was associated with ADA formation with an area under the curve of 0.944 (95% confidence interval, 0.851-1.000; P = .003). Intestinal tissues from patients, but not blood samples, contained infliximab-TNF complexes and infliximab-specific plasma cells. Incubation of PBMCs with infliximab-TNF complexes resulted in a 4.74-fold increase in level of interleukin (IL) 1β (IL1B) messenger RNA (P for comparison = .005), increased IL1B protein secretion, and a 2.69-fold increase in the expression of TNF messenger RNA (P for comparison = 0.013) compared with control PBMCs. Infliximab reduced only IL1B and TNF expression. Antibodies against TLR2 or TLR4 did not block the increases in IL1B or TNF expression, but endocytosis was required. THP-1 cells endocytosed higher levels of infliximab-TNF complexes than infliximab alone.

Conclusions: In mice, we found ADA formation to increase with dose of infliximab given and concentration of infliximab-TNF complexes detected in blood. Based on studies of human intestinal tissues and blood samples, we propose that infliximab-TNF complexes formed in the intestine are endocytosed by and activate innate immune cells, which increase expression of IL1B and TNF and production of antibodies against the drug complex. It is therefore important to optimize the infliximab dose to a level that is effective but does not activate an innate immune response against the drug-TNF complex.

Keywords: Biologic Therapy; IBD Treatment Complication; Side Effect; mAb.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antibodies / blood*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Endocytosis
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immunity, Innate
  • Immunoglobulin Fab Fragments / administration & dosage
  • Immunoglobulin Fab Fragments / immunology*
  • Inflammatory Bowel Diseases / blood
  • Inflammatory Bowel Diseases / drug therapy
  • Inflammatory Bowel Diseases / immunology*
  • Infliximab / administration & dosage
  • Infliximab / immunology*
  • Injections, Intravenous
  • Interleukin-1beta / immunology
  • Interleukin-1beta / metabolism
  • Intestines / immunology*
  • Leukocytes, Mononuclear / immunology
  • Leukocytes, Mononuclear / metabolism
  • Macrophages / immunology
  • Macrophages / metabolism
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • THP-1 Cells
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor Inhibitors / administration & dosage
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor Inhibitors / immunology*
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha / administration & dosage
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha / immunology*
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha / metabolism


  • Antibodies
  • IL1B protein, human
  • Immunoglobulin Fab Fragments
  • Interleukin-1beta
  • TNF protein, human
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor Inhibitors
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha
  • Infliximab