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Keywords:

  • anti-CD20;
  • autoimmune;
  • blistering;
  • desmoglein;
  • disease;
  • therapy

Summary

Background  Pemphigus is a life-threatening autoimmune blistering disease usually treated with high-dose corticosteroids and other immunosuppressants. However, this regimen may prove inadequate in severe cases and cause dangerous side-effects. While protein A immunoadsorption (PAIA) induces a rapid remission in severe pemphigus, the disease usually recurs once the treatment is stopped. In contrast, anti-CD20 antibody rituximab has a delayed onset of action but may lead to a long-term remission of pemphigus.

Objective  To develop a treatment protocol combining the rapid remission induced by PAIA with the positive long-term effects of rituximab.

Patients and methods  Five patients with pemphigus vulgaris and two patients with pemphigus foliaceus were treated with a combination of PAIA, rituximab and conventional immunosuppressants. Patients who failed to respond to this therapy subsequently received intravenous immunoglobulins (IVIg).

Results  All seven patients showed a sharp decline of circulating autoantibody levels and rapid improvement of cutaneous and mucosal lesions within 4 weeks of therapy. Long-term remission was induced in three patients and one further patient showed a partial improvement of his disease. The three remaining patients who could not be weaned off PAIA and remained resistant to rituximab treatment showed a good response to IVIg therapy.

Conclusion  The combination of PAIA and rituximab induces a rapid and durable remission in a subset of patients with severe pemphigus. IVIg therapy appears to be a good treatment option for rituximab nonresponders.