Researchers found that a low proportion of circulating transitional B cells is associated with a high risk of MRI activity in interferon beta-treated multiple sclerosis (MS), which may predict treatment response, according to a study published in the Journal of Immunology. 

MS results in the inflammatory demyelination of the central nervous system, caused by a mixture of environmental and genetic factors. Although the exact disease mechanism remains a mystery, researchers have increasingly pinned down several lymphocyte populations as being responsible for aspects of the disease. Among them, B cells have received the most attention due to their positive effects in depleting CD20-targeted therapies in both relapsing and progressive MS. 

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The authors of this study assessed the prognostic value of circulating B cell phenotypes for MRI activity after 48 weeks. This study is a post-hoc extended analysis of another study, which recruited patients aged 18-55 years who were diagnosed with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis (RRMS) based on MRI findings. 

Upon analysis of MRI results, researchers found that a lower proportion of transitional B cells and, to a lesser extent, a higher proportion of isotype-switched B cells were discovered in patients that had combined unique active (CUA) lesions on their MRI scans. This was true in both week 0 and week 48.

“These data suggest higher proportions of transitional B cells, and to a lesser extent also lower proportions of isotype-switched B cells, to positively influence the risk for CUA in interferon beta-treated RRMS,” the authors wrote. 

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The findings confirm the known protective role of transitional B cells in interferon beta-treated RRMS patients, making it a potential prognostic biomarker for MRI activity. More research is needed to determine the extent of the prognostic value of transitional B cells in treatment-naïve RRMS patients and to investigate whether other similarly useful biomarkers exist. 


Mimpen M, Damoiseaux J, van Doorm W, et al. Proportions of circulating transitional B cells associate with MRI activity in interferon beta-treated multiple sclerosis patients. Journal of Neuroimmunology. 2021;358:577664. doi:10.1016/j.jneuroim.2021.577664