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Clinical impact of B-cell depletion with the anti-CD20 antibody rituximab in chronic fatigue syndrome: A preliminary case series - Source: BMC Neurology, Jul 1, 2009

  [ 32 votes ]   [ Discuss This Article ]
By Oystein Fluge, Dlav Mella • • July 2, 2009

[Note: To read the full text of this open access article free, click here. To read an article on how rituximab may work to "reboot" destructive "renegade" B-cell antibodies in rheumatoid arthritis, and, perhaps, ME/CFS, click here.]

Background: Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is a disease of unknown etiology.

A patient with CFS had unexpected, marked recovery of CFS symptoms lasting for five months during and after cytotoxic chemotherapy for Hodgkin's disease.

We reasoned that the transient CFS recovery was related to methotrexate treatment, which induces immunomodulation in part through B-cell depletion. [B cells are a type of white blood cells that develop in the bone marrow and become plasma cells that produce antibodies.]

Methods: In a case series, this patient and two additional CFS patients were B-cell depleted by infusion of the monoclonal anti-CD20 antibody rituximab.


• All three had improvement of all CFS symptoms.

• Patients 1 and 2 had major amelioration from 6 weeks after intervention,

• Patient 3 slight improvement from the same time, but then improved markedly from 26 weeks after intervention.

• The symptomatic effect lasted until weeks 16, 18 and 44, respectively.

• At relapse, all were retreated with a single (patient 1) or double rituximab infusion (patients 2 and 3). Again, all three had marked symptom improvement, mimicking their first response.

• After new symptom recurrence, patients 1 and 2 were given weekly oral methotrexate, patient 1 having effect also from this agent.

• Patients 1 and 2 were again treated for a third rituximab infusion after new relapse, again with a marked clinical benefit.

• No unexpected toxicity was seen.

Conclusion: These observations suggest that B-lymphocytes are involved in CFS pathogenesis for a subset of patients. Benefit for all CFS symptoms, the delayed symptom relief following B-cell depletion, the kinetics of relapses, and the effect also from methotrexate treatment, provide suggestive evidence that B-cells play a significant role in the ongoing clinical features, and that CFS may be amenable to therapeutic interventions aimed at modifying B-cell number and function.

More systematic investigations of this therapeutic strategy, and of its biological basis, are now needed.

Source: BMC Neurology, Jul 1, 2009;9(28). PMID: 19566965 by Fluge O, Mella O. Department of Oncology and Medical Physics, Haukeland University Hospital, Bergen; Institute of Medicine, Section of Oncology, University of Bergen, Norway. [E-mail:;]

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