The efficacy of B cell depletion therapies in diseases such as nephrotic syndrome and rheumatoid arthritis suggests a broader role in B cells in human disease than previously recognized. In some of these diseases, such as the minimal change disease subtype of nephrotic syndrome, pathogenic antibodies and immune complexes are not involved. We hypothesized that B cells, activated in the kidney, might produce cytokines capable of directly inducing cell injury and proteinuria. To directly test our hypothesis, we targeted a model antigen to the kidney glomerulus and showed that transfer of antigen-specific B cells could induce glomerular injury and proteinuria. This effect was mediated by IL-4, as transfer of IL-4–deficient B cells did not induce proteinuria. Overexpression of IL-4 in mice was sufficient to induce kidney injury and proteinuria and could be attenuated by JAK kinase inhibitors. Since IL-4 is a specific activator of STAT6, we analyzed kidney biopsies and demonstrated STAT6 activation in up to 1 of 3 of minimal change disease patients, suggesting IL-4 or IL-13 exposure in these patients. These data suggest that the role of B cells in nephrotic syndrome could be mediated by cytokines.
Alfred H.J. Kim, Jun-Jae Chung, Shreeram Akilesh, Ania Koziell, Sanjay Jain, Jeffrey B. Hodgin, Mark J. Miller, Thaddeus S. Stappenbeck, Jeffrey H. Miner, Andrey S. Shaw