Marrow cells and 5 x 107 thymocytes of unprimed (C57BL/6 x DBA/2)F1, (C57BL/10 x WB)F1 and (C3H x C57BL)F1 donor mice were mixed in vitro and transplanted into X-irradiated syngeneic hosts. Upon injection of sheep erythrocytes, splenic plaque-forming cells (PFC) secreting IgM (direct PFC or IgG (indirect PFC) hemolytic antibody were enumerated at the time of peak responses.
By grading the numbers of marrow cells, inocula were found that contained few immunocompetent cells reaching the recipient spleens, interacting with thymocytes or other accessory cells (or both), and generating PFC. The frequency of responses in BDF1 mice conformed to Poisson statistics, indicating that immunocompetent marrow cells participated in a single-hit interaction limiting PFC responses. The marrow cells assayed were not restricted for the antibody class (IgM versus IgG) to be secreted by mature PFC. Unrestricted marrow cells could have been either the precursors of PFC or accessory cells. Different results were obtained in BWF1 and C3BF1 mice. The frequency of responses in relation to the number of marrow cells grafted did not follow Poisson statistics, and the limiting cells were restricted for antibody class. Presumably, immunocompetent cells of these strains were more heterogeneous than those of BDF1 mice and participated in a multiplicity of cell-to-cell interactions. The strain differences reflected inherent properties of marrow cells and not influences of the environment in which PFC were produced. The results confirmed for bone marrow the heterogeneity of immunocompetent cells reported by others for spleen, and suggested that genetic factors such as "immune response" genes regulate cellular differentiation also for functions other than those related to antibody specificity.