Objective: We undertook this study to investigate the effect of B cell depletion on fibrosis in systemic sclerosis (SSc) and its mechanism of action. Methods: Mice with bleomycin-induced SSc (BLM-SSc) were treated with anti-CD20 antibody, and skin and lung fibrosis were histopathologically evaluated. T cells and macrophages were cocultured with B cells, and the effect of B cells on their differentiation was assessed by flow cytometry. We also cocultured B cells and monocytes from SSc patients and analyzed the correlation between fibrosis and profibrotic macrophage induction by B cells. Results: B cell depletion inhibited fibrosis in mice with BLM-SSc. B cells from mice with BLM-SSc increased proinflammatory cytokine–producing T cells in coculture. In mice with BLM-SSc, B cell depletion before BLM treatment (pre-depletion) inhibited fibrosis more strongly than B cell depletion after BLM treatment (post-depletion) (P < 0.01). However, the frequencies of proinflammatory T cells were lower in the post-depletion group than in the pre-depletion group. This discrepancy suggests that the effect of B cell depletion on fibrosis cannot be explained by its effect on T cell differentiation. On the other hand, profibrotic macrophages were markedly decreased in the pre-depletion group compared to the post-depletion group (P < 0.05). Furthermore, B cells from mice with BLM-SSc increased profibrotic macrophage differentiation in coculture (P < 0.05). In SSc patients, the extent of profibrotic macrophage induction by B cells correlated with the severity of fibrosis (P < 0.0005). Conclusion: These findings suggest that B cell depletion inhibits tissue fibrosis via suppression of profibrotic macrophage differentiation in mice with BLM-SSc, providing a new rationale for B cell depletion therapy in SSc.
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