A highly specific and reproducible antigen-induced, antigen-specific culture and assay system for antibody production by human peripheral blood B lymphocytes has been developed. The system is clearly T cell and monocyte dependent and is independent of exogenous mitogens. The major factors in our ability to trigger specific antibody production with antigen alone have been the use of extremely low concentrations of antigen in vitro (doses several orders of magnitude below those inducing a peak blastogenic response), careful attention to in vitro cell density and culture vessel geometry, and appreciation of the kinetics of the circulating antigen-inducible B cell repertoire. A dichotomy and overlap between antigen-induced, antigen-specific and antigen-induced, polyclonal responses was observed in the study of doubly immunized individuals. Whereas antibody responses highly specific for the antigen in culture were observed under one set of culture conditions (flat-bottomed vessels, 1.5 x 10(6) cells), switching to another culture system (round-bottomed vessels, 5 x 10(5) cells) resulted in polyclonal responses to antigen. Despite these culture condition-related differences in the induction of antibody synthesis, the suppression of specific antibody production that occurred at high concentrations of antigen was specific only for the antigen in culture. The capability to easily and reproducibly look at truly antigen-induced, antigen specific antibody production should be a major tool in furthering the understanding of human B cell activation and immunoregulation.

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