Research Summary: Natalizumab Exerts Direct Signaling Capacity and Supports a Pro-Inflammatory Phenotype in Some Patients with Multiple Sclerosis


Natalizumab is a recombinant monoclonal antibody raised against integrin alpha-4 (CD49d). It is approved for the treatment of patients with multiple sclerosis (MS), a chronic inflammatory autoimmune disease of the CNS. While having shown high therapeutic efficacy, treatment by natalizumab has been linked to progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy (PML) as a serious adverse effect. Furthermore, drug cessation sometimes induces rebound disease activity of unknown etiology. Here we investigated whether binding of this adhesion-blocking antibody to T lymphocytes could modulate their phenotype by direct induction of intracellular signaling events. Primary CD4+ T lymphocytes either from healthy donors and treated with natalizumab in vitro or from MS patients receiving their very first dose of natalizumab were analyzed. Natalizumab induced a mild upregulation of IL-2, IFN-γ and IL-17 expression in activated primary human CD4+ T cells propagated ex vivo from healthy donors, consistent with a pro-inflammatory costimulatory effect on lymphokine expression. Along with this, natalizumab binding triggered rapid MAPK/ERK phosphorylation. Furthermore, it decreased CD49d surface expression on effector cells within a few hours. Sustained CD49d downregulation could be attributed to integrin internalization and degradation. Importantly, also CD4+ T cells from some MS patients receiving their very first dose of natalizumab produced more IL-2, IFN-γ and IL-17 already 24 h after infusion. Together these data indicate that in addition to its adhesion-blocking mode of action natalizumab possesses mild direct signaling capacities, which can support a pro-inflammatory phenotype of peripheral blood T lymphocytes. This might explain why a rebound of disease activity or IRIS is observed in some MS patients after natalizumab cessation.


Publisher: Public Library of Science

Date Published: 20-December-2012

Author(s): Benkert T., Dietz L., Hartmann E., Leich E., Rosenwald A., Serfling E., Buttmann M., Berberich-Siebelt F.


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