Spleen cell suspensions of unprimed donor mice containing precursors of immunocytes have been transplanted into X-irradiated recipient mice. In the presence of antigen (sheep erythrocytes) these precursors, called antigen-sensitive units, gave rise to progeny cells secreting specific antibody. We studied quantitatively the production of cells releasing IgM hemolysins (direct plaque-forming cells), IgG hemolysins (indirect plaque-forming cells), and hemagglutinins (cluster-forming cells). We found that each of these immunocyte populations was distinct, i.e., that cells releasing agglutinins did not, as a rule, release hemolysins, and vice versa. We also found that cell populations secreting IgM hemolysins did not shift, under certain experimental conditions, to the production of IgG hemolysins during the primary immune response.
By transplanting graded numbers of spleen cells, we succeeded in limiting to one or a few the number of antigen-sensitive units that reached the recipient spleen. We estimated thereby the frequency of antigen-sensitive units in donor cell suspensions and tested their potential for production of immunocytes of more than one type. Our results indicated that antigen-sensitive units were unipotent for they displayed in the spleens of unprimed donors the same restrictions of function and heterogeneity (antibody-specificity differentiation, antibody-class differentiation) found among antibody-forming cells. Furthermore, antigen-sensitive precursors for direct plaque-forming cells, indirect plaque-forming cells, and cluster-forming cells were detected in the spleens of unprimed mice in different frequencies, i.e., 1 in ∼ 106, 1 in ∼ 7 x 106, and 1 in ∼ 19 x 106 spleen cells, respectively.
We concluded that relatively advanced differentiation of potentially competent cells occurs before sheep erythrocyte administration. The relevance of this finding for the broad spectrum of immunologic reactivities and for the heterogeneity of antibody responses to given antigens was discussed.