Transgenic mice with a gamma 2b transgene were produced to investigate whether gamma 2b can replace mu in the development of B lymphocytes. Transgenic gamma 2b is present on the surface of B cells. Young transgenic mice have a dramatic decrease in B cell numbers, however, older mice have almost normal B cell numbers. Strikingly, all gamma 2b-expressing B cells in the spleen also express mu. The same is true for mice with a hybrid transgene in which the mu transmembrane and intracytoplasmic sequences replace those of gamma 2b (gamma 2b-mumem). The B cell defect is not due to toxicity of gamma 2b since crosses between gamma 2b transgenic and mu transgenic mice have normal numbers of B cells. Presence of the gamma 2b transgene strongly enhances the feedback inhibition of endogenous heavy chain gene rearrangement. Light chain genes are expressed normally, and the early expression of transgenic light chains does not improve B cell maturation. When the endogenous mu locus is inactivated, B cells do not develop at all in gamma 2b transgenic mice. The data suggest that gamma 2b cannot replace mu in promoting the developmental maturation of B cells, but that it can cause feedback inhibition of heavy chain gene rearrangement. Thus, the signals for heavy chain feedback and B cell maturation appear to be different.

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