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Open Access Research article

Mycophenolic acid counteracts B cell proliferation and plasmablast formation in patients with systemic lupus erythematosus

Sebastian Eickenberg12, Eva Mickholz12, Elisabeth Jung12, Jerzy-Roch Nofer3, Herrmann Pavenstädt2 and Annett M Jacobi12*

Author Affiliations

1 Rheumatology and Clinical Immunology Unit of the Department of Internal Medicine D, University Hospital Münster, Albert Schweitzer Str. 33, 48149 Münster, Germany

2 Department of Internal Medicine D, University Hospital Münster, Albert Schweitzer Str. 33, 48149 Münster, Germany

3 Center of Laboratory Medicine, University Hospital Münster, Albert Schweitzer Str. 33, 48149 Münster, Germany

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Arthritis Research & Therapy 2012, 14:R110  doi:10.1186/ar3835

Published: 9 May 2012

Abstract

Introduction

Clinical trials revealed a high efficacy of mycophenolate mofetil (MMF) in inducing and maintaining remission in patients with class III-V-lupus nephritis. Also extrarenal manifestations respond to MMF treatment. However, few attempts have been undertaken to delineate its mechanism of action in systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) a disease characterized by enhanced B cell activation.

Methods

Clinical and paraclinical parameters of 107 patients with SLE were recorded consecutively and analyzed retrospectively. Patients were divided into treatment groups (MMF: n = 39, azathioprine (AZA) n = 30 and controls without immunosuppressive therapy n = 38). To further delineate the effect of mycophenolic acid (MPA) on naive and memory B cells in vitro assays were performed.

Results

Although patients taking AZA flared more frequently than patients on MMF or controls, the analysis of clinical parameters did not reveal significant differences. However, profound differences in paraclinical parameters were found. B cell frequencies and numbers were significantly higher in patients taking MMF compared to those on AZA but lower numbers and frequencies of plasmablasts were detected compared to AZA-treated patients or controls. Notably, MMF treatment was associated with a significantly higher frequency and number of transitional B cells as well as naive B cells compared to AZA treatment. Differences in T cell subsets were not significant. MPA abrogated in vitro proliferation of purified B cells completely but had only moderate impact on B cell survival.

Conclusions

The thorough inhibition of B cell activation and plasma cell formation by MMF might explain the favorable outcomes of previous clinical trials in patients with SLE, since enhanced B cell proliferation is a hallmark of this disease.