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Open Access Open Badges Research article

A rheumatoid factor paradox: inhibition of rituximab effector function

Jonathan D Jones1*, Irene Shyu1, Marianna M Newkirk2 and William FC Rigby1

Author Affiliations

1 Division of Rheumatology, Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center, One Medical Center Drive, Lebanon, NH 03756, USA

2 Division of Rheumatology, McGill University Health Centre, 1650 Cedar Ave., Montreal, QC H3G 1A4, Canada

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Arthritis Research & Therapy 2013, 15:R20  doi:10.1186/ar4152

Published: 25 January 2013



Rituximab (RTX) therapy of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) exhibits enhanced effectiveness in seropositive patients. Using patient sera, we tested if this improved efficacy was associated with enhanced RTX mediated complement-dependent cytotoxicity (RTX-CDC).


We developed an in vitro assay for RTX-CDC using patient sera and the Daudi human B cell line. Using propidium iodide uptake and flow cytometry, we compared RTX-CDC with rheumatoid factor (RF)+ sera relative to normal volunteer, non-RA and RF- sera. Additional studies examined mixing studies of RF+ and RF- sera, as well as the effect of monoclonal IgA or IgM RF. Finally, the effect of RF on RTX mediated trogocytosis of normal B cells was evaluated.


Using human sera, addition of RTX resulted in rapid and profound (> 50%) Daudi cell death that was complement dependent. Surprisingly, RF+ patient sera exhibited reduced RTX-CDC relative to RF- sera, with an inverse relationship of RTX-CDC and RF titer. Mixing studies indicated the presence of an inhibitor of RTX-CDC in RF+ sera. The addition of monoclonal IgM or IgA RF to RF- sera markedly inhibited RTX-CDC. This effect was specific for RF binding to the Fc portion of RTX as it was not apparent with the F(ab)' domains of RTX engineered onto IgG3 heavy chain. RF also modestly inhibited RTX mediated trogocytosis.


Contrary to expectations, RF+ sera exhibits reduced RTX-CDC due to the presence of RF. The enhanced efficacy of RTX in seropositive RA patients cannot be attributed to improved B cell depletion through CDC. This result indicates that high RF levels may potentially modulate the efficacy of any therapeutic monoclonal antibody dependent on Fc effector function.