B Lymphocytes in Rheumatoid Arthritis and the Effects of Anti–TNF-α Agents on B Lymphocytes: A Review of the Literature

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Purpose: The aim of this article was to review published research related to B lymphocytes in rheumatoid arthritis, their role in the pathogenesis of the disease, the effects of tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-α inhibitors on B lymphocytes, the risk for infection, and responses to vaccines. Methods: A PubMed search was conducted to review recent advances related to B lymphocytes and the effects of anti–TNF-α on B lymphocytes in rheumatoid arthritis. Findings: B lymphocytes play an important role in the pathogenesis of rheumatoid arthritis. In this review, we summarize the major mechanisms by which B lymphocytes play a pathologic role in the development and propagation of the disease, as B lymphocytes are recruited to the synovial fluid, where they contribute to local inflammation through the secretion of pro-inflammatory mediators (cytokines, chemokines, micro-RNAs) and present antigens to T cells. We discuss the effects of TNF-α either direct or indirect, on B lymphocytes expressing receptors for this cytokine. We also show that total B-cell numbers have been reported to be reduced in the blood of patients with rheumatoid arthritis versus healthy controls, but are significantly increased up to normal levels in patients undergoing anti–TNF-α therapy. As for B-cell subsets, controversial results have been reported, with studies showing decreased frequencies of total memory B cells (and memory subsets) and others showing no differences in patients versus healthy controls. Studies investigating the effects of anti–TNF-α therapy have also given controversial results, with therapy found to increase (or not) the frequency of memory B lymphocytes, in patients with rheumatoid arthritis versus healthy controls. Those highly variable results could have been due to differences in patient characteristics and limited numbers of subjects. Finally, we summarize the effects of blocking TNF-α with anti–TNF-α agents on possible infections that patients with rheumatoid arthritis may contract, as well as on responses to vaccination. Implications: B lymphocytes play a significant role in the pathogenesis of rheumatoid arthritis, and B cell–depletion therapy has a major effect on the course of the disease. The advances in treatment of rheumatoid arthritis include the development of targeted therapies. Anti–TNF-α therapies are widely used despite potentially serious adverse events. The data on the effects of anti–TNF-α therapies on B lymphocytes are limited and conflicting. There is a need for larger studies to better understand the effects of newly discovered therapies on the different cells of the immune system.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1034-1045
Number of pages12
JournalClinical Therapeutics
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2018


  • B lymphocytes
  • anti–TNF-α agents
  • rheumatoid arthritis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology
  • Pharmacology (medical)


Dive into the research topics of 'B Lymphocytes in Rheumatoid Arthritis and the Effects of Anti–TNF-α Agents on B Lymphocytes: A Review of the Literature'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this