Open Access Highly Accessed Open Badges Research article

B Lymphocyte intestinal homing in inflammatory bowel disease

Caterina Defendenti1*, Piercarlo Sarzi-Puttini2, Silvia Grosso1, Annamaria Croce3, Olivia Senesi, Simone Saibeni3, Simona Bollani4, Piero Luigi Almasio5, Savino Bruno3 and Fabiola Atzeni26

Author Affiliations

1 Laboratory Unit, Fatebenefratelli Hospital, Milan, Italy

2 Rheumatology Unit, L. Sacco University Hospital, Milan, Italy

3 Division of Gastroenterology, Fatebenefratelli Hospital, Milan, Italy

4 Division of Pathology, Fatebenefratelli Hospital, Milan, Italy

5 GI & Liver Unit, DIBIMIS, Policlinico, University of Palermo, Palermo, Italy

6 Experimental Medicine, Queen Mary University, London, UK

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BMC Immunology 2011, 12:71  doi:10.1186/1471-2172-12-71

Published: 30 December 2011



Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is thought to be due to an abnormal interaction between the host immune system and commensal microflora. Within the intestinal immune system, B cells produce physiologically natural antibodies but pathologically atypical anti-neutrophil antibodies (xANCAs) are frequently observed in patients with IBD. The objective is to investigate the localisation of immunoglobulin-producing cells (IPCs) in samples of inflamed intestinal tissue taken from patients with IBD, and their possible relationship with clinical features.


The IPCs in small intestinal, colonic and rectal biopsy specimens of patients with IBD were analysed by means of immunofluorescence using polyclonal rabbit anti-human Ig and goat anti-human IgM. The B cell phenotype of the IPC-positive samples was assessed using monoclonal antibodies specific for CD79, CD20, CD23, CD21, CD5, λ and κ chains. Statistical correlations were sought between the histological findings and clinical expression.


The study involved 96 patients (64 with ulcerative colitis and 32 with Crohn's disease). Two different patterns of B lymphocyte infiltrates were found in the intestinal tissue: one was characterised by a strong to moderate stromal localisation of small IgM+/CD79+/CD20-/CD21-/CD23-/CD5± IPCs (42.7% of cases); in the other (57.3%) no such small IPCs were detected in stromal or epithelial tissues. IPCs were significantly less frequent in the patients with Crohn's disease than in those with ulcerative colitis (p = 0.004).


Our findings suggest that different immunopathogenetic pathways underlie chronic intestinal inflammation with different clinical expressions. The presence of small B lymphocytes resembling B-1 cells also seemed to be negatively associated with Crohn's disease. It can therefore be inferred that the gut contains an alternative population of B cells that have a regulatory function.

Inflammatory bowel disease; inflammation; mucosal immunity; lymphocytes; B1 cells; lymphocyte homing