The susceptibility of neonatal and adult B lymphocytes to tolerance induction was analyzed by a modification of the in vitro splenic focus technique. This technique permits stimulation of individual hapten-specific clonal precursor cells from both neonatal and adult donors. Neonatal or adult BALB/c spleen cells were adoptively transferred into irradiated, syngeneic, adult recipients which had been carrier-primed to hemocyanin (Hy), thus maximizing stimulation to the hapten 2,4-dinitrophenyl coupled by Hy (DNP-Hy). Cultures were initially treated with DNP on several heterologous (non-Hy) carriers and subsequently stimulated with DNP-Hy. Whereas the responsiveness of adult B cells was not diminished by pretreatment with any DNP conjugate, the majority of the neonatal B-cell response was abolished by in vitro culture with all of the DNP-protein conjugates. During the 1st wk of life, the ability to tolerize neonatal splenic B cells progressively decreased. Thus, tolerance in this system is: (a) restricted to B cells early in development; (b) established by both tolerogens and immunogens; (c) achieved at low (10(-9) M determinant) antigen concentrations; and (d) highly specific, discriminating between DNP- and TNP-specific B cells. We conclude that: (a) B lymphocytes, during their development, mature through a stage in which they are extremely susceptible to tolerogenesis; (b) the specific interaction of B-cell antigen receptors with multivalent antigens, while irrelevant to mature B cells, is tolerogenic to neonatal (immature) B cells unless antigen is concomitantly recognized by primed T cells; and (c) differences in the susceptibility of immature and mature B lymphocytes to tolerance induction suggest intrinsic differences between neonatal and adult B cells and may provide a physiologically relevant model for the study of tolerance to self-antigens.

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