OBJECTIVE: To define the role of ZAP-70+ B cells (CD19+/ZAP-70+) as a biomarker of response to B cell depletion therapy (BCDT), their relationship with clinical outcome, and their behavior during repopulation of peripheral blood in patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). METHODS: Thirty-one patients with RA underwent BCDT and were followed for 12 months. Disease activity was assessed with the European League Against Rheumatism (EULAR) criteria. Cytofluorimetric analysis of peripheral blood B cell subsets at baseline and at 6- and 12-month intervals after BCDT was performed using surface markers (CD45, CD3, CD56, CD19, IgD, CD38, CD27) and intracellular ZAP-70. RESULTS: A moderate/good EULAR response was achieved in 66.6% of the RA cohort. The baseline percentage of CD19+/ZAP-70+ cells was lower in good responder patients (1.8% ± 1.7%) compared to poor responders (5.6% ± 4.9%; p = 0.02). A decrease of plasmablasts (IgD-CD27+CD38+) and pre-switch memory (IgD+CD27+) B cells occurred after BCDT. Recovery of B cells in peripheral blood after the first course of BCDT was characterized by the reappearance of B cell subtypes that showed a naive, activated phenotype, coupled with a decrease in memory cells. B cells carrying intracytoplasmic ZAP-70 increased significantly from the baseline value of 4.4% ± 4.5% to 12.4% ± 9.2% (p = 0.001) at the 6-month and to 9.4% ± 6.4% (p = 0.002) at the 12-month followup. CONCLUSION: Baseline percentage of CD19+/ZAP-70+ cells is associated with the clinical outcome after BCDT in patients with RA. Depletion of plasmablasts and pre-switch memory B cells and increase of CD19+/ZAP-70+ cells are features of the recovery of the B cell pool after BCDT.
- B cells
- rheumatoid arthritis