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Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is frequently complicated with infections. The aim of our study was to evaluate vaccination response in patients with RA after B-cell depletion by using rituximab.
Influenza (Afluria) and pneumococcal polysaccharides (Pneumo23) vaccines were given 6 months after rituximab (post-RTX group, n = 11) or 6 days before rituximab treatment (pre-RTX group; n = 8). RA patients never exposed to RTX composed the control group (n = 10). Vaccine-specific cellular responses were evaluated on day 6 after vaccination, and vaccine-specific humoral responses, on day 21.
On day 6 after vaccination, formation of influenza-specific B cells was lower in post-RTX group as compared with the pre-RTX group and controls (P = 0.04). Polysaccharide-specific B cells were found in 27% to 50%, being equally distributed between the groups. On day 21, the impairment of humoral responses was more pronounced with respect to influenza as compared with the pneumococcal vaccine and affected both IgG and light-chain production. Total absence of influenza-specific IgG production was observed in 55% of the post-RTX group.
RTX compromises cellular and humoral vaccine responses in RA patients. However, repeated RTX treatment or previous anti-tumor necrosis factor (anti-TNF) treatment did not accentuate these defects.