Mouse spleen suspensions generate discrete cell clusters within 1-2 d of culture. We have isolated these clusters by velocity sedimentation to study their contribution to primary antibody responses. Clusters represent approximately 5% of the starting spleen cells and consist of 20-50% B cells, 20-50% T cells, and 10-20% dendritic cells (DC). When the cultures are stimulated with thymus-dependent antigens, like heterologous red cells or dinitrophenyl-keyhole limpet hemocyanin (DNP-KLH), the clusters are the principal site for the development of plaque-forming cells (PFC). Noncluster fractions form few PFC and only when supplemented with fresh DC. PFC responses in all cases are antigen specific. B cells cluster only in the presence of T cells and DC (1 DC/200 B-T cell mixtures) and only after encountering specific antigen. The elimination of either DC or Lyt-1+2- T cells, with monoclonal antibody and complement, ablates B cell development into PFC. PFC responses are restored with antigen-nonspecific helper factors formed in the syngeneic mixed leukocyte reaction between DC and T cells. Since PFC to DNP-KLH do not develop de novo when B cells are exposed to antigen and helper factors, anti-DNP PFC precursors must be stimulated within clusters to become responsive to helper factors. PFC development within clusters is restricted by the major histocompatibility complex (MHC). When DC and T cells are from strain P1, then P1 but not P2 B cells develop into PFC; when DC are from strain P2 and T cells from strain P1, strain P2 B cells are selected to become PFC in clusters. The entry of B cells into clusters is itself MHC restricted, since P1 DC/T cells aggregate six times as many B cells from strain P1 as strain P2. Thus, clusters are the site in which DC, B, and T cells interact to generate PFC. One can use clusters to retrieve B cells that have been selected in an antigen-dependent, MHC-restricted fashion and to show that clustering B cells become responsive to soluble, polyclonal helper factors.

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