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Differential effects on BAFF and APRIL levels in rituximab-treated patients with systemic lupus erythematosus and rheumatoid arthritis

Therese Vallerskog, Mikael Heimbürger, Iva Gunnarsson, Wei Zhou, Marie Wahren-Herlenius, Christina Trollmo* and Vivianne Malmström

Author Affiliations

Rheumatology Unit, Department of Medicine Solna, Karolinska Institutet, CMM L8:04, Karolinska Hospital, SE-171 76 Stockholm, Sweden

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Arthritis Research & Therapy 2006, 8:R167  doi:10.1186/ar2076

Published: 8 November 2006


The objective of this study was to investigate the interaction between levels of BAFF (B-cell activation factor of the tumour necrosis factor [TNF] family) and APRIL (a proliferation-inducing ligand) and B-cell frequencies in patients with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) and rheumatoid arthritis (RA) treated with the B-cell-depleting agent rituximab. Ten patients with SLE were treated with rituximab in combination with cyclophosphamide and corticosteroids. They were followed longitudinally up to 6 months after B-cell repopulation. Nine patients with RA, resistant or intolerant to anti-TNF therapy, treated with rituximab plus methotrexate were investigated up to 6 months after treatment. The B-cell frequency was determined by flow cytometry, and serum levels of BAFF and APRIL were measured by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays. BAFF levels rose significantly during B-cell depletion in both patient groups, and in patients with SLE the BAFF levels declined close to pre-treatment levels upon B-cell repopulation. Patients with SLE had normal levels of APRIL at baseline, and during depletion there was a significant decrease. In contrast, patients with RA had APRIL levels 10-fold higher than normal, which did not change during depletion. At baseline, correlations between levels of B cells and APRIL, and DAS28 (disease activity score using 28 joint counts) and BAFF were observed in patients with RA. In summary, increased BAFF levels were observed during absence of circulating B cells in our SLE and RA patient cohorts. In spite of the limited number of patients, our data suggest that BAFF and APRIL are differentially regulated in different autoimmune diseases and, in addition, differently affected by rituximab treatment.