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How Does Glatiramer Acetate Affect B Cells in Multiple Sclerosis?

Nov 17, 2014 1:00:36 PM / by Daisy Goodrich

Although glatiramer acetate has been around for about 20 years, we still do not have the full picture of its mode of action, especially on B cells.

Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a disease where one’s own immune system erroneously attacks the protective sheath (myelin) that covers nerves. As a result, the nerves may deteriorate, resulting in the accumulation of scarred and hardened tissue (multiple sclerosis) over time. Signs and symptoms of MS disease vary widely, depending on the amount of damage and which particular nerves are affected.

B cells Myelin basic protein, B cells, and T cells are important players in multiple sclerosis. Understanding the role of each will lead to better drug design. Image Credits:

Just as with other autoimmune diseases such as psoriasis, Crohn’s disease, and lupus, there is no cure for MS. Several FDA-approved drugs reduce relapses, but disease progression does occur, and many MS patients live with disabilities.  The prevalence of MS in the US is unknown, for patients may not initially display symptoms, and the CDC does not require physicians to submit data on diagnosed cases.

One FDA-approved drug for the treatment of relapsing-remitting MS is a synthetic form of the myelin basic protein, copolymer I, trade name Copaxone. The generic name of copolymer I is glatiramer acetate. This agent has few side effects and can reduce relapse rates by almost one third. We know that glatiramer acetate is an immunomodulator, but we do not have specifics on how it modifies the behavior of T cells and B cells in MS patients.

One group of researchers from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center MS Clinic recently published their findings on the influence of glatiramer acetate on B cells in JAMA Neurology.[1] For this observational study, they recruited 22 MS patients who had been on glatiramer acetate therapy, and 22 MS patients who had received no prior treatment.

Peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) were collected from all 44 patients. For comparison, researchers obtained PBMC from 15 healthy volunteers, including obtaining PBMC through HemaCare. Next, CD19+ B cells were isolated from PBMC samples from the 3 groups. These B cells were then put through numerous laboratory tests in order to explicate the nature of B cells in healthy persons, in patients with MS, and in patients with MS on glatiramer acetate therapy.

Researchers found that glatiramer acetate therapy remodels the compartment of B cells and influences cytokine secretion and immunoglobulin production. Their data suggest that this drug affects several aspects of the function of dysregulated B cells in MS that may contribute to its therapeutic mechanisms.

HemaCare is proud to have contributed towards this study and is pleased to supply normal and disease state PBMC including CD19+ B cells for similar studies.


1. Ireland SJ, Guzman AA, O'Brien DE, Hughes S, Greenberg B, Flores A, Graves D, Remington G, Frohman EM, Davis LS, Monson NL. The Effect of Glatiramer Acetate Therapy on Functional Properties of B Cells From Patients With Relapsing-Remitting Multiple Sclerosis. JAMA Neurol. 2014 Sep 29.

Topics: B Cells, Autoimmune Disorders, PBMCs

Daisy Goodrich

Written by Daisy Goodrich

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