The number of B cells producing antibodies reactive with any of seven autoantigens or two conventional antigens was compared at the single-cell level to the total number of Ig-secreting B cells present in the spleens of NZB, MRL lpr/lpr, and BXSB autoimmune mice. The proportion of lymphocytes producing antibodies of each specificity, expressed as a percentage of the total B cell repertoire, was virtually identical among autoimmune and congenic nonautoimmune animals. Furthermore, B cells and serum antibodies reactive with conventional antigens increased commensurately with those reactive with autoantigens. These results indicate that systemic autoimmune diseases arise from polyclonal B cell activation.
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