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This article is part of the supplement: B cells in autoimmune diseases: Part 2

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B-cell subpopulations in humans and their differential susceptibility to depletion with anti-CD20 monoclonal antibodies

Maria J Leandro

Author Affiliations

Centre for Rheumatology and Bloomsbury Rheumatology Unit, Rayne Building, Room 416, University College London, 5 University Street, London WC1E 6JF, UK

Arthritis Research & Therapy 2013, 15(Suppl 1):S3  doi:10.1186/ar3908

Published: 25 March 2013


In humans, different B-cell subpopulations can be distinguished in peripheral blood and other tissues on the basis of differential expression of various surface markers. These different subsets correspond to different stages of maturation, activation and differentiation. B-cell depletion therapy based on rituximab, an anti-CD20 mAb, is widely used in the treatment of various malignant and autoimmune diseases. Rituximab induces a very significant depletion of B-cell subpopulations in the peripheral blood usually for a period of 6 to 9 months after one cycle of therapy. Cells detected circulating during depletion are mainly CD20 negative plasmablasts. Data on depletion of CD20-expressing B cells in solid tissues are limited but show that depletion is significant but not complete, with bone marrow and spleen being more easily depleted than lymph nodes. Factors influencing depletion are thought to include not only the total drug dose administered and distribution into various tissues, but also B-cell intrinsic and microenvironment factors influencing recruitment of effector mechanisms and antigen and effector modulation. Available studies show that the degree of depletion varies between individuals, even if treated with the same dose, but that it tends to be consistent in the same individual. This suggests that individual factors are important in determining the final extent of depletion.