CNS inflammation after natalizumab therapy for multiple sclerosis: A retrospective histopathological and CSF cohort study

Darius Häusler, Katja Akgün, Lidia Stork, Hans Lassmann, Tjalf Ziemssen, Wolfgang Brück, Imke Metz
Brain Pathology 2021 May 6, : e12969
Natalizumab, a recombinant humanized monoclonal antibody directed against the α4 subunit of the integrins α4ß1 and α4ß7, has been approved for the treatment of active relapsing-remitting MS. Although natalizumab is a highly beneficial drug that effectively reduces the risk of sustained disability progression and the rate of clinical relapses, some patients do not respond to it, and some are at higher risk of developing progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy (PML). The histopathological effects after natalizumab therapy are still unknown. We, therefore, performed a detailed histological characterization of the CNS inflammatory cell infiltrate of 24 brain specimens from natalizumab treated patients, consisting of 20 biopsies and 4 autopsies and 21 MS controls. To complement the analysis, immune cells in blood and cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) of 30 natalizumab-treated patients and 42 MS controls were quantified by flow cytometry. Inflammatory infiltrates within lesions were mainly composed of T cells and macrophages, some B cells, plasma cells, and dendritic cells. There was no significant difference in the numbers of T cells or macrophages and microglial cells in lesions of natalizumab-treated patients as compared to controls. A shift towards cytotoxic T cells of a memory phenotype was observed in the CSF. Plasma cells were significantly increased in active demyelinating lesions of natalizumab-treated patients, but no correlation to clinical disability was observed. Dendritic cells within lesions were found to be reduced with longer ongoing therapy duration. Our findings suggest that natalizumab does not completely prevent immune cells from entering the CNS and is associated with an accumulation of plasma cells, the pathogenic and clinical significance of which is not known. As B cells are considered to serve as a reservoir of the JC virus, the observed plasma cell accumulation and reduction in dendritic cells in the CNS of natalizumab-treated patients may potentially play a role in PML development.

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