Artesunate abolishes germinal center B cells and inhibits autoimmune arthritis

Lifei Hou, Katharine E. Block, Haochu Huang

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34 Scopus citations


The antimalarial drug artemisinin and its derivatives exhibit potent immunosuppressive activity in several autoimmune disease models, however the mechanisms are not well-understood. This study was designed to investigate the therapeutic effects and the underlying mechanisms of the artemisinin analog artesunate using the K/BxN mouse model of rheumatoid arthritis. The well-studied disease mechanisms of K/BxN model allowed us to pinpoint the effect of artesunate on disease. Artesunate treatment prevented arthritis development in young K/BxN mice by inhibiting germinal center (GC) formation and production of autoantibodies. In adult K/BxN mice with established arthritis, artesunate diminished GC B cells in a few days. However, artesunate did not affect the follicular helper T cells (Tfh). In contrast to the spontaneous K/BxN model, artesunate treatment exerted minor influence on K/BxN serum transfer induced arthritis suggesting that artesunate has minimal effect on inflammatory responses downstream of antibody production. Finally, we showed that artesunate preferentially inhibits proliferating GC B cells. These results identify GC B cells as a target of artesunate and provide a new rationale for using artemisinin analogues to treat autoimmune diseases mediated by autoantibodies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere104762
JournalPloS one
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 12 2014
Externally publishedYes


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