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Arthritis Rheumatol ; 74(6): 934-947, 2022 Jun.
Article in English | MEDLINE | ID: covidwho-1589171


OBJECTIVE: Patients with autoimmune inflammatory rheumatic diseases receiving rituximab (RTX) therapy are at higher risk of poor COVID-19 outcomes and show substantially impaired humoral immune response to anti-SARS-CoV-2 vaccine. However, the complex relationship between antigen-specific B cells and T cells and the level of B cell repopulation necessary to achieve anti-vaccine responses remain largely unknown. METHODS: Antibody responses to SARS-CoV-2 vaccines and induction of antigen-specific B and CD4/CD8 T cell subsets were studied in 19 patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) or antineutrophil cytoplasmic antibody-associated vasculitis receiving RTX, 12 patients with RA receiving other therapies, and 30 healthy controls after SARS-CoV-2 vaccination with either messenger RNA or vector-based vaccines. RESULTS: A minimum of 10 B cells per microliter (0.4% of lymphocytes) in the peripheral circulation appeared to be required for RTX-treated patients to mount seroconversion to anti-S1 IgG upon SARS-CoV-2 vaccination. RTX-treated patients who lacked IgG seroconversion showed reduced receptor-binding domain-positive B cells (P = 0.0005), a lower frequency of Tfh-like cells (P = 0.0481), as well as fewer activated CD4 (P = 0.0036) and CD8 T cells (P = 0.0308) compared to RTX-treated patients who achieved IgG seroconversion. Functionally relevant B cell depletion resulted in impaired interferon-γ secretion by spike-specific CD4 T cells (P = 0.0112, r = 0.5342). In contrast, antigen-specific CD8 T cells were reduced in both RA patients and RTX-treated patients, independently of IgG formation. CONCLUSION: In RTX-treated patients, a minimum of 10 B cells per microliter in the peripheral circulation is a candidate biomarker for a high likelihood of an appropriate cellular and humoral response after SARS-CoV-2 vaccination. Mechanistically, the data emphasize the crucial role of costimulatory B cell functions for the proper induction of CD4 responses propagating vaccine-specific B cell and plasma cell differentiation.

Arthritis, Rheumatoid , COVID-19 , Antibodies, Viral , Arthritis, Rheumatoid/drug therapy , COVID-19/prevention & control , COVID-19 Vaccines/therapeutic use , Cell Count , Humans , Immunity, Humoral , Immunoglobulin G , Rituximab/therapeutic use , SARS-CoV-2 , Vaccination/methods