B cells have emerged as a therapeutic target for MS. Anti-CD20 antibodies, which deplete B cells, are effective therapies for MS. However, atacicept (TACI-Fc), which blocks BAFF and APRIL and reduces B cells, unexpectedly exacerbates MS. We tested the hypothesis that B cell maturation antigen (BCMA), a receptor for BAFF and APRIL, plays a role in the paradoxical effects of anti-CD20 antibody and TACI-Fc using experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE).
EAE was induced in wild-type (BCMA+/+) and BCMA-deficient (BCMA–/–) mice with an immunization of rodent myelin oligodendrocyte glycoprotein (MOG)35–55 peptide. Treatment with anti-CD20 antibody, TACI-Fc, and isotype controls was administered by intraperitoneal injections. CNS infiltration was evaluated by histology; immune cell phenotypes were evaluated by flow cytometry; MOG-specific antibodies were determined by ELISA. Mixed bone marrow chimeras and cell culture assays were used to identify the specific subsets of immune cells affected by BCMA deficiency.
First, we found that BCMA–/– mice had more severe EAE compared with BCMA+/+ mice and the increased disease was associated with elevated anti-MOG B-cell responses. Second, we found that anti-CD20 therapy attenuated EAE in BCMA–/– mice but not in BCMA+/+ mice. Third, TACI-Fc attenuated EAE in BCMA+/+ mice but not in BCMA–/– mice. Mixed bone marrow chimeric and cell culture experiments demonstrated that BCMA deficiency elevates inflammatory B-cell responses but inhibits inflammatory responses in macrophages.
BCMA has multifaceted roles during inflammation that affects therapeutic efficacies of anti-CD20 and TACI-Fc in EAE. Our results from BCMA-deficient mice provide insights into the failure of atacicept in MS.