The following evidence, mainly presented here, suggests that IgD receptors play a crucial role in determining the potential for affinity maturation in memory B cell populations. IgD receptors are present on the first memory B cells to appear after priming. These memory cells give rise to more-mature memory cells that have lost their IgD receptors. The proportions of early (IgD(+)) and mature (IgD(-)) memory cells found in individual donors vary with time, priming conditions, and the availability of T cell help, and both populations frequently coexist for long periods of time.

IgD(+) and IgD(-) memory cells carry IgG receptors and give rise to IgG responses with identical isotype representation in adoptive recipients. IgD(+) memory cells, however, always give rise to predominantly low-affinity antibody responses, whereas IgD(-) memory cells consistently generate responses of substantially higher average affinity. This affinity differential is maintained between early and mature memory populations in the same donor and does not appear to be a result of selective differentiation of higher-affinity IgD(+) memory cells into the IgD(-) memory pool. Thus, the selective forces responsible for affinity maturation appear to operate mainly in mature memory cell populations that have already lost IgD receptors; or, stated conversely, little or no selection towards high-affinity memory appears to occur among memory cells that retain IgD receptors.

In discussing these findings, we suggest that the IgD receptors themselves are responsible for maintaining early memory populations at a lower average affinity than IgD(-) populations in the same animal. The IgD receptors, we argue, serve to increase the antigen-binding capacity of lower-affinity memory cells so that these cells can survive, expand, and differentiate (to IgD(-)) at antigen concentrations that select against expansion of low- affinity memory cells no longer carrying IgD receptors. Thus, when antigen is limiting, IgD(-) memory populations will be selectively expanded to higher average affinities, whereas coexisting IgD(+) populations will retain their initial affinity profile.

This hypothesis suggests that mechanisms that regulate expression and loss of IgD receptors are central to the adaptability of the immune system in its response to invading pathogens. Two related roles can be envisioned for the IgD receptors in this regard. First, they extend the lower boundary of the affinity range of early memory cell populations induced by a given antigenic stimulus and therefore broaden the diversity of responses obtainable from these populations. Secondly, they support the persistence of low-affinity memory populations under conditions where antigen becomes limiting and eventually disappears. These persisting populations then serve as a diversely reactive reservoir from which mature memory populations can be drawn with higher affinities either for the original antigen or, more importantly, for related antigens that the animal may subsequently encounter. Thus the existence of IgD receptors on early memory cells maintains the full range of response diversity despite ongoing selective expansion of (mature) memory populations to produce antibodies with high combining affinities for individual antigens. The flexibility inherent in such an organizational system, we believe, could be expected to account for the evolutionary development of IgD receptors and the regulatory capabilities that support operation of the system.

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