We have demonstrated that there are structurally distinct membrane and secreted IgG2a immunoglobulin molecules. The membrane heavy chain is both larger and more acidic than the secreted molecule. This difference is not a result of different N-glycosidic-linked oligosaccharide chains. The membrane heavy chain also is antigenically different from its secreted homologue. This is based on the fact that secreted IgG2a molecules express an allotypic determinant absent on membrane molecules. We discussed the genetic control and gene organization of membrane and secreted immunoglobulin heavy chain sequences and suggest mechanisms controlling the expression of the simian virus 40 genome as models for alternate gene expression of membrane and secreted heavy chain polypeptide chains from the same DNA sequence. The possible biological significance of the membrane immunoglobulin acting as a recognition site for regulatory T cells also is discussed. The difference between membrane and secreted immunoglobulin is proposed as a possible explanation for the manner in which T cells interact with IgG on memory B cells in the presence of a large excess of IgG present in body fluids.

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