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Rituximab for the Treatment of IgG4-Related Disease: Lessons From 10 Consecutive Patients

Khosroshahi, Arezou MD; Carruthers, Mollie N. MD; Deshpande, Vikram MD; Unizony, Sebastian MD; Bloch, Donald B. MD; Stone, John H. MD, MPH

doi: 10.1097/MD.0b013e3182431ef6
Original Study

Patients with IgG4-related disease (IgG4-RD) typically have elevated serum concentrations of IgG4 and share histopathologic features that are similar across affected organ(s). IgG4-RD patients frequently require prolonged treatment with glucocorticoids and are often unable to taper these medications. Traditional disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) are generally ineffective. We assessed the clinical and serologic responses to B lymphocyte depletion therapy in 10 consecutive patients with steroid- and DMARD-refractory IgG4-RD.

Ten patients with IgG4-RD were treated with rituximab (RTX) (2 infusions of 1000 mg, 15 days apart). Clinical improvement was assessed by monitoring the patient’s ability to taper prednisone to discontinuation and to stop DMARDs; by serial measurements of total IgG and IgG subclasses; and by follow-up radiologic assessments guided by the patient’s particular pattern of organ involvement. We also developed and retrospectively applied the IgG4-RD Disease Activity Index and Flare Tool.

Organ involvement included the pancreas, biliary tree, aorta, salivary glands (submandibular and parotid), lacrimal glands, lymph nodes, thyroid gland, and retroperitoneum. Nine of 10 patients demonstrated striking clinical improvement within 1 month of starting RTX. One patient with advanced thyroid fibrosis associated with Riedel thyroiditis and a history of disease in multiple other organ systems did not have improvement in the thyroid gland, but the disease did not progress to involve new organs. All 10 patients were able to discontinue prednisone and DMARDs following RTX therapy. Significant decreases in IgG concentrations were observed for the IgG4 subclass only. Four patients were re-treated with RTX after 6 months because of either symptom recurrence and increasing IgG4 concentration at the time of peripheral B cell reconstitution (n = 2) or because of physician discretion (n = 2). Repeated courses of RTX maintained their effectiveness and resulted in further decreases in IgG4 concentrations. In patients who had an increased IgG4 concentration at the time of presentation, the level of serum IgG4 appeared to be a reliable measure of disease activity.

IgG4-RD is an idiopathic, multiorgan inflammatory disease in which diverse organ manifestations are linked by characteristic histopathologic and immunohistochemical features. Treatment with RTX led to prompt clinical and serologic improvement in refractory IgG4-RD in all patients with active inflammation. Serial treatments with RTX may lead to progressive declines in serum IgG4 concentrations and better disease control. Serum IgG4 concentrations may remain low, and clinical disease activity may remain quiescent even after B cell reconstitution in a significant proportion of patients.

Supplemental Digital Content is available in the text.

From Rheumatology Unit (AK, MNC, SU, DBB, JHS), Division of Rheumatology, Allergy, and Immunology, Department of Medicine; and Department of Pathology (VD); Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts.

Figures 1 and 3 can be viewed in color online at

Dr. Deshpande has served as a consultant for Chugai Pharmaceutical. Dr. Stone has served as a consultant and his institution has a grant pending with Genentech. The other authors declare no funding or conflicts of interest.

Reprints: John H. Stone, MD, MPH, Rheumatology Unit, Massachusetts General Hospital, 55 Fruit Street, Boston, Massachusetts 02114 (e-mail:

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© 2012 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.