In MS, pathogenic memory B cells infiltrate the brain and develop into antibody-secreting cells. Chemokine receptors not only define their brain-infiltrating capacity, but also assist in their maturation in germinal centers. How this corresponds to pregnancy, as a naturally occurring modifier of MS, is underexplored. Here, we aimed to study the impact of pregnancy on both ex vivo and in vitro B-cell differentiation in MS. The composition and outgrowth of peripheral B cells were compared between 19 MS pregnant patients and 12 healthy controls during the third trimester of pregnancy (low relapse risk) and postpartum (high relapse risk). Transitional, and not naive mature, B-cell frequencies were found to drop in the third trimester, which was most prominent in patients who experienced a pre-pregnancy relapse. Early after delivery, these frequencies raised again, while memory B -cell frequencies modestly declined. CXCR4 was downregulated and CXCR5, CXCR3 and CCR6 were upregulated on postpartum memory B cells, implying enhanced recruitment into germinal center light zones for interaction with T follicular helper (TFH) cells. Postpartum memory B cells of MS patients expressed higher levels of CCR6 and preferentially developed into plasma cells under TFH-like in vitro conditions. These findings imply that memory B- cell differentiation contributes to postpartum relapse risk in MS.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
This study was funded by the Dutch MS Research Foundation (15-490d MS, 16-952 MS and 20-490f MS).
© 2021, The Author(s).