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Secondary Antibody Deficiency in Glucocorticoid Therapy Clearly Differs from Primary Antibody Deficiency



The aim of this study was to identify characteristics of hypogammaglobulinemia secondary to glucocorticoid therapy and their value in the differential diagnosis to primary forms of antibody deficiency.


We investigated prevalence and character of hypogammaglobulinemia in a cohort of 36 patients with giant cell arteritis (GCA) and polymyalgia rheumatica (PMR) on glucocorticoid therapy in comparison to a gender- and age-matched cohort of hospital controls. We therefore determined serum immunoglobulin levels as well as B- and T cell-subsets in the peripheral blood of all participants. In addition, prior serum immunoglobulin levels and clinical data of the GCA and PMR patients were extracted from the electronic patient data-base.


21/36 GCA/PMR patients on glucocorticoid treatment developed antibody deficiency. In 19 patients this included IgG and in 13 patients IgG was the only affected isotype. The reduction of IgG was persistent in nearly 50 % of these patients during the observed period. GCA/PMR patients had reduced circulating naive and transitional B cells (p = 0.0043 and p = 0.0002 respectively) while IgM, IgG and IgA memory B cells were preserved. Amongst T-cell subsets, we found a reduction of CD4 memory T cells (p < 0.0001), CD4 regulatory T cells (p = 0.0002) and few CD8 memory T-cell subtypes.


Persistent humoral immunodeficiency occurs in about a quarter of GCA/PMR patients under glucocorticoid therapy. Because most patients have isolated IgG deficiency, preserved IgA production and class-switched memory B cells, by these markers this form of secondary hypogammaglobulinemia can be clearly distinguished from common variable immunodeficiency (CVID).

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The authors thank Armin Buchwald from the Department of Laboratory Medicine and Birgit Nettlenbusch from the Immunological Laboratory for their technical support and all physicians and nurses of the Division of Rheumatology and Clinical Immunology and the Eye Center for their invaluable help in collecting the data for this study. This study was supported by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF 01EO1303). The authors are responsible for the contents of this publication.

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Correspondence to Klaus Warnatz.

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All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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Wirsum, C., Glaser, C., Gutenberger, S. et al. Secondary Antibody Deficiency in Glucocorticoid Therapy Clearly Differs from Primary Antibody Deficiency. J Clin Immunol 36, 406–412 (2016).

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