Two models have been proposed to explain triggering of B cells by so-called T-independent antigen. Feldmann and Basten (1) proposed that the interaction of multiple repeating determinants on polymeric antigens with specific Ig receptors on the B-cell surface is sufficient to provide the signals for division of these cells and differentiation to antibody-forming cells. In contrast, coutinho et al. (2, and see review, 3) have claimed that there is only one signal, a mitogenic signal, receptors acting merely as passive focusing devices to localize the antigen on specific cells where it delivers a mitogenic signal resulting in differentiation to an antibody-producing cell. This model rests primarily on the demonstration that at high concentration all T-independent antigens they have tested are mitogenic for B cells (4-6). Compatible with this hypothesis are the observations that hydrolysis of lipopolysaccharide (LPS) to remove the ester- linked fatty acids of the mitogenic lipid A component abrogates its mitogenic (7,8) activity as well as its ability, when substituted with the TNP hapten, to induce a T-independent anti- TNP response (9). However, alkali treatment of LPS, although not changing its antigenic component (8), may also modify the molecule physically or chemically which could account for loss of immunogenic properties (10). We therefore investigated other reagents which interact with LPS in a more chemically defined manner in an effort to clarify the relationship between the mitogenic and immunogenic properties of this molecule.

Polymyxin B (PB) is one of a family of cyclic peptide antibiotics which are bactericidal for most gram-negative bacteria. It prevents the lethal endotoxic activity of LPS (11, 12) and changes the physical structure of LPS (13). We report here that low doses of PB added to cultures of mouse spleen cells inhibit the mitogenic activity of TNP-LPS, a T- independent antigen, and native LPS, but do not suppress the immune response to TNP-LPS. PB interacts with TNP-LPS and LPS causing a physical change in the molecule. In addition, polymyxin-treated LPS is no longer mitogenic. These results suggest a dissociation between the mitogenic and immunogenic properties of TNP-LPS.

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