This study describes the effects of incubating antibody-forming cells (AFC), either as mass cell suspensions, or as single AFC in microdroplets, with antigens against which the cells display specificity. Most of the work was done with hapten-specific anti-DNP-AFC, but AFC with specificity against flagellar antigens or fowl gamma globulin (FGG) were also included. It was noted that 30-min incubation of AFC with highly multivalent forms of antigen caused a substantial partial suppression of the antibody-forming performance of the AFC as measured by a hemolytic plaque test. Thus, when cell suspensions containing anti-DNP plaque-forming cells (PFC), were incubated for 30 min at 37°C with 100 µg of DNP-polymerized flagellin (DNP-POL), the number of plaques appearing after washing of the cells and placing them in plaque-revealing erythrocyte monolayers was reduced to 50% or less compared with the number of plaques observed with control portions preincubated with medium alone. Preincubation with DNP-lysine, with oligovalent DNP-protein conjugates, or with irrelevant antigens produced no such inhibition. Studies where preinhibited PFC suspensions were mixed with control suspensions before assay showed that a nonspecific carryover of antigen into the assay system was not involved. The inhibitory effect could also be initiated by holding cells at 0°C with DNP-POL, but in that case, inhibition only became manifest after cells were incubated for 30 min at 37°C before being placed in plaque-revealing monolayers. This suggested that inhibition was initiated by adsorption of multivalent antigen onto PFC-surface Ig, but required some active process before secretion actually slowed down. The effect was dose- and time-dependent, antigen-specific, and generalized for all antigens studied.
As well as yielding reduced plaque numbers, the preinhibited cells also gave smaller, more turbid plaques, suggesting a reduction in antibody-forming rate by each PFC rather than the elimination of PFC. Consistent with this suggestion was the observation that the degree of inhibition of plaque formation could be increased by decreasing the sensitivity of the assay so that only AFC secreting at high rates were detected. A micromanipulation study, where single PFC were subjected to inhibition, and were then tested for the rate at which they could cause hemolysis, showed a 68% inhibition of mean secretory rate.
Micromanipulation studies were performed to test the amount of cell surface-associated Ig on control and preinhibited PFC. For this, single PFC were held with [125I]antiglobulin and quantitative radioautography was performed. No significant difference emerged, suggesting that retention of secreted Ig on cell-attached antigen was not the cause of inhibition.
The results are discussed in the framework of tolerance models and blocking effects at the T-cell level by antigen-antibody complexes. The name effector cell blockade is suggested in the belief that the phenomenon may be a general one applying to both T and B cells.