MS and the B cell controversy

Anne H. Cross, Emmanuelle Waubant

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

31 Scopus citations


The contribution of B cells and their products to the pathogenesis of MS has long been debated. The presence of B cells, plasma cells and excess immunoglobulins in MS lesions and in the cerebrospinal fluid of MS patients implicate the humoral immune system in the disease. Correlations of higher levels of CSF B cells and immunoglobulins found in some studies with a more aggressive clinical course of MS have bolstered the notion that the humoral immune system is involved in MS pathogenesis. However, until the advent of rituximab, a monoclonal antibody therapy that specifically lyses B cells, confirmation of the key role of B cells and their products in MS had been lacking. Development of this therapeutic monoclonal antibody to CD20, a cell surface molecule confined to B cells, allowed determination of the effects of B cell depletion. Perhaps somewhat unexpectedly, depletion of circulating B cells led to rapid and profound reduction in gadolinium enhancing lesions on brain MRI in three separate studies in relapsing MS subjects. When examined, depletion of B cells in the blood was accompanied by depletion of B cells in CSF. Notably, reduction of enhancing brain lesions was not accompanied by reduction in CSF immunoglobulins. Whether the critical role of B cells occurs in the periphery, in the CNS, or in both locations has not yet been determined.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)231-238
Number of pages8
JournalBiochimica et Biophysica Acta - Molecular Basis of Disease
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2011


  • Antibody
  • B lymphocyte
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Rituximab
  • Therapy


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