The effect of B cell depletion therapy on anti-TSH receptor antibodies and clinical outcome in glucocorticoid-refractory Graves' orbitopathy

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This case series documents the response of nine individuals with glucocorticoid-refractory Graves' orbitopathy (GO) to B cell depletion therapy with rituximab (RTX).


Graves' disease (GD) is one of the commonest autoimmune conditions and is frequently associated with inflammatory changes around the eyes (GO). GO frequently results in significant functional visual impairment, and in the most severe cases, it can result in permanent loss of sight. RTX is a therapeutic monoclonal antibody, which targets cell-surface CD-20, resulting in depletion of circulating B lymphocytes. It has been found to be useful for the treatment of a number of autoimmune conditions including, in preliminary studies, GO.

Design and Patients

We have treated nine individuals (1 male, 8 female, age range 37–87 years) with glucocorticoid-resistant GO with RTX since 2008. RTX was administered in divided doses at fortnightly intervals, following 500 mg IV methylprednisolone pretreatment.


Each patient underwent thorough assessment before and after RTX therapy, including thyroid function tests, B cell counts, thyroid autoantibody levels and detailed clinical assessment according to EUGOGO standard protocols. All patients have now been followed up for 16 months or more.


There was a significant reduction in thyrotropin receptor binding inhibitory immunoglobulin (TBII) levels in all patients following RTX treatment and a reduction in the clinical activity score (CAS) was seen in all cases. We also report striking improvement in pretibial thyroid dermopathy in one patient following RTX.


This case series adds to the growing literature demonstrating that RTX, administered in our patients with concomitant methylprednisolone, is safe and clinically effective in the treatment of active, moderate to severe and sight-threatening GO. Randomized controlled trials are now needed to confirm the efficacy of RTX for GO.

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