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Abstract

Objective

Rituximab displays therapeutic benefits in the treatment of patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) resistant to tumor necrosis factor (TNF) blockade. However, the precise role of B cells in the pathogenesis of RA is still unknown. We undertook this study to investigate the global molecular effects of rituximab in synovial biopsy samples obtained from anti-TNF–resistant RA patients before and after administration of the drug.

Methods

Paired synovial biopsy samples were obtained from the affected knee of anti-TNF–resistant RA patients before (time 0) and 12 weeks after (time 12) initiation of rituximab therapy. Total RNA was extracted, labeled according to standard Affymetrix procedures, and hybridized on GeneChip HGU133 Plus 2.0 slides. Immunohistochemistry and quantitative real-time reverse transcriptase–polymerase chain reaction experiments were performed to confirm the differential expression of selected transcripts.

Results

According to Student's paired t-tests, 549 of 54,675 investigated probe sets were differentially expressed between time 0 and time 12. Pathway analysis revealed that genes down-regulated between time 0 and time 12 were significantly enriched in immunoglobulin genes and genes involved in chemotaxis, leukocyte activation, and immune responses (Gene Ontology annotations). In contrast, genes up-regulated between time 0 and time 12 were significantly enriched in transcripts involved in cell development (Gene Ontology annotation) and wound healing (Gene Set Enrichment Analysis). At baseline, higher synovial expression of immunoglobulin genes was associated with response to therapy.

Conclusion

Rituximab displays unique effects on global gene expression profiles in the synovial tissue of RA patients. These observations open new perspectives in the understanding of the biologic effects of the drug and in the selection of patients likely to benefit from this therapy.