Although many suspected autoimmune diseases are thought to be T cell-mediated, the response to therapy indicates that depletion of B cells consistently inhibits disease activity. In multiple sclerosis, it appears that disease suppression is associated with the long-term reduction of memory B cells, which serves as a biomarker for disease activity in many other CD20+ B cell depletion-sensitive, autoimmune diseases. Following B cell depletion, the rapid repopulation by transitional (immature) and naïve (mature) B cells from the bone marrow masks the marked depletion and slow repopulation of lymphoid tissue-derived, memory B cells. This can provide long-term protection from a short treatment cycle. It seems that memory B cells, possibly via T cell stimulation, drive relapsing disease. However, their sequestration in ectopic follicles and the chronic activity of B cells and plasma cells in the central nervous system may drive progressive neurodegeneration directly via antigen-specific mechanisms or indirectly via glial-dependent mechanisms. While unproven, Epstein-Barr virus may be an aetiological trigger of multiple sclerosis. This infects mature B cells, drives the production of memory B cells and possibly provides co-stimulatory signals promoting T cell-independent activation that breaks immune tolerance to generate autoreactivity. Thus, a memory B cell centric mechanism can integrate: potential aetiology, genetics, pathology and response to therapy in multiple sclerosis and other autoimmune conditions with ectopic B cell activation that are responsive to memory B cell-depleting strategies.
- memory B cells
- multiple sclerosis