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Clinical and immunological effects of Rituximab in patients with lupus nephritis refractory to conventional therapy: a pilot study

Mónica Vigna-Perez1, Berenice Hernández-Castro1, Octavio Paredes-Saharopulos1, Diana Portales-Pérez2, Lourdes Baranda13, Carlos Abud-Mendoza3 and Roberto González-Amaro1*

Author Affiliations

1 Departamento de Inmunología, Facultad de Medicina, UASLP, San Luis Potosí, SLP, México

2 Laboratorio de Inmunología Celular y Molecular, Facultad de Ciencias Químicas, UASLP, San Luis Potosí, SLP, México

3 Unidad Regional de Reumatología y Osteoporosis, Hospital Central Dr Ignacio Morones Prieto, San Luis Potosí, SLP, México

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Arthritis Research & Therapy 2006, 8:R83  doi:10.1186/ar1954

Published: 5 May 2006


We studied the clinical and immunological effects of Rituximab (anti-CD20) therapy in patients with lupus nephritis. In an open clinical trial, 22 patients with active systemic lupus erythematosis and renal involvement (mainly class III and IV according to the WHO classification) that was refractory to conventional therapy were studied. In all these patients, Rituximab (0.5 to 1.0 g at days 1 and 15) was added to the immunosuppressive therapy and its therapeutic effect was evaluated. In addition, the levels and function of regulatory T lymphocytes and the apoptosis of immune cells were assessed. We found a significant reduction in disease activity (p < 0.05, MEX-SLEDAI index), and proteinuria (p < 0.05) at days 60 and 90 of Rituximab therapy. Although most patients showed improvement in creatinine clearance and erythrocyturia, no significant changes in these parameters were detected. In most patients (20/22), B cell depletion was observed, but no clear-cut effect of Rituximab on complement levels or auto-antibody titers was detected (p > 0.05 in all cases). One patient died at day 70 with invasive histoplasmosis. No important adverse effects of Rituximab therapy were registered in other patients. A significant enhancement in the levels of different CD4+ regulatory cells (TREG, Th3, Tr1), but not CD8+ Ts lymphocytes, was observed at day 30. This increase was sustained for TREG cells at day 90, and accompanied by an improvement in their regulatory function. In addition, we observed an unexpected increase in the apoptosis of T cells at day 30. Interestingly, the enhancement in the suppressive function of TREG cells was not observed in the two patients that showed the poorest clinical response to Rituximab. We conclude that the data obtained in this open clinical trial suggest that Rituximab is a promising candidate for randomized controlled trials in patients with lupus nephritis refractory to the conventional immunosuppressive therapy. The effects of Rituximab on regulatory cells and apoptosis of T lymphocytes are interesting and its possible role in the putative effect of this biological agent in systemic lupus erythematosis deserves additional studies.