BACKGROUND: A pathogenic role of B cells in non-genetic nephrotic syndrome has been suggested by the efficacy of rituximab, a B cell depleting antibody, in maintaining a prolonged remission. However, little information is available on B cell homeostasis in nephrotic syndrome patients.
METHODS: We retrospectively analyzed by flow cytometry the distribution of different B cell subpopulations in 107 steroid-sensitive and in 6 genetic steroid-resistant nephrotic syndrome pediatric patients, compared with age- and sex-matched controls.
RESULTS: Fifty-one steroid-sensitive patients at disease onset, before starting immunosuppression, presented significantly increased levels of total, transitional, memory, and switched memory B cells compared to controls. Oral immunosuppression strongly affected transitional and mature B cell levels in 27 patients in relapse and also in 29 patients in remission, whereas memory B cells were significantly higher compared to controls during relapse, despite the immunosuppressive treatment, and were normalized only in patients in remission. Children with genetic forms of steroid-resistant nephrotic syndrome presented no differences in B cell profile from controls.
CONCLUSIONS: Our study indicates that memory B cells, more than other B cell subsets, are increased and appear to be pathogenically relevant in steroid-sensitive nephrotic syndrome pediatric patients.