The characteristics of antibody-forming cell (AFC) progenitors lacking previous contact with specific antigen (virgin AFC progenitors) has been studied using sedimentation velocity and buoyant density separation for the investigation of physically distinct B-cell subpopulations. Functional characterization of isolated subsets was made using a quantitative adoptive immune assay for the IgM AFC progenitors responding to the antigen 4-hydroxy-3-iodo-5-nitrophenylacetic acid conjugated polymerized bacterial flagellin. Extensive heterogeneity is present among B lymphocytes, only some subpopulations of which exhibit AFC progenitor function. In the spleen of adult conventional CBA mice, atypically fast sedimenting cells of low buoyant density are active, while typical small B lymphocytes do not appear to be progenitors of IgM AFC. Spleen of adult specific pathogen-free (SPF), germfree, and athymic nude mice give similar results, although a minor population of typical slowly sedimenting dense cells are active in the latter two sources. Adult conventional bone marrow cells are as physically and functionally heterogeneous as splenic B cells, and although a significant proportion of AFC progenitor activity is found among dense, slowly sedimenting cells, most of the activity is among low density, faster sedimenting cells. In contrast to this situation in adult animals, where most of the unprimed AFC progenitors are large, atypical B cells, the spleens of neonatal mice provide a site where virgin AFC progenitors with the physical properties of typical small B lymphocytes are found. While being present in conventional and SPF neonatal spleens, these virgin cells are predominant in 7-day-old germfree mouse spleen. These findings suggest that the newborn virgin B cell is a typical small lymphocyte. However, few cells of this type are found in the adult animal. The unprimed AFC-progenitor population in the adult consists of large, fast sedimenting, low buoyant density, adherent cells, the physical properties of which are characteristic of activated B lymphocytes. It is suggested that these atypical cells are derived from the small newborn virgin B cell by the nonspecific effects of environmental antigenic stimuli.

This content is only available as a PDF.