Natalizumab promotes activation and pro-inflammatory differentiation of peripheral B cells in multiple sclerosis patients.
Background: In the past, multiple sclerosis (MS) medications have been primarily designed to modulate T cell properties. Based on the emerging concept that B cells are equally important for the propagation of MS, we compared the effect of four commonly used, primarily T cell-targeting MS medications on B cells.
Methods: Using flow cytometry, we analyzed peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) of untreated (n = 19) and dimethyl fumarate (DMF; n = 21)-, fingolimod (FTY; n = 17)-, glatiramer acetate (GA; n = 18)-, and natalizumab (NAT; n = 20)-treated MS patients, focusing on B cell maturation, differentiation, and cytokine production.
Results: While GA exerted minor effects on the investigated B cell properties, DMF and FTY robustly inhibited pro-inflammatory B cell function. In contrast, NAT treatment enhanced B cell differentiation, activation, and pro-inflammatory cytokine production when compared to both intraindividual samples collected before NAT treatment initiation as well as untreated MS controls. Our mechanistic in vitro studies confirm this observation.
Conclusion: Our data indicate that common MS medications have differential, in part opposing effects on B cells. The observed activation of peripheral B cells upon NAT treatment may be instructive to interpret its unfavorable effect in certain B cell-mediated inflammatory conditions and to elucidate the immunological basis of MS relapses after NAT withdrawal.
Trial registration: Protocols were approved by the ethical review committee of the University Medical Center Göttingen (#3/4/14).