Objective: B lymphocytes have been implicated in the pathogenesis of lupus and other autoimmune diseases, resulting in the introduction of B cell-directed therapies. Epratuzumab, a humanised anti-CD22 monoclonal antibody, is currently in clinical trials, although its effects on patients’ B cells are not completely understood.
Methods: This study analysed the in vivo effect of epratuzumab on peripheral B cell subsets in 12 patients with systemic lupus erythematosus, and also addressed the in vitro effects of the drug by analysing anti-immunoglobulin-induced proliferation of isolated B cells obtained from the peripheral blood of 11 additional patients with lupus and seven normal subjects.
Results: Upon treatment, a pronounced reduction of CD27– B cells and CD22 surface expression on CD27– B cells was observed, suggesting that these cells, which mainly comprise naïve and transitional B cells, are preferentially targeted by epratuzumab in vivo. The results of in vitro studies indicate additional regulatory effects of the drug by reducing the enhanced activation and proliferation of anti-immunoglobulin-stimulated lupus B cells after co-incubation with CD40L or CpG. Epratuzumab inhibited the proliferation of B cells from patients with systemic lupus erythematosus but not normal B cells under all culture conditions.
Conclusions: Epratuzumab preferentially modulates the exaggerated activation and proliferation of B cells from patients with lupus in contrast to normal subjects, thus suggesting that epratuzumab might offer a new therapeutic option for patients with systemic lupus erythematosus, as enhanced B cell activation is a hallmark of this disease.
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Competing interests: DMG is an officer, director and shareholder of Immunomedics, Inc., which owns epratuzumab. GRB and TD were PIs of the clinical trial and received financial support by the sponsor for conducting the study. The other authors disclaim any potential financial conflicts.