The ability of IgM antibodies to specifically enhance the thymus-dependent humoral immune response to particulate antigens is well documented. We have used two approaches to test whether complement factors play a role in this process. First, mice were depleted of C3 by treatment with cobra venom factor (CVF) and then immunized with SRBC with or without IgM-anti-SRBC. CVF treatment severely impaired the capacity of IgM to induce an enhanced anti-SRBC response. Moreover, it was shown that IgM can potentiate the response in C5-deficient AKR mice, thus demonstrating that the complement factors acting before C5 are the crucial ones. A second test compared the enhancing properties of two monoclonal IgM-anti-TNP antibodies where, because of a point mutation in the mu chain constant region, one of the antibodies is impaired in its capacity to activate complement. We show that the mutant antibody lacks the enhancing properties of the wild-type IgM. Activation of C3 by IgM antibodies as well as localization of antigen in the spleen seem to be necessary steps in the IgM-mediated enhancement of antibody responses. Our data offer an explanation to the immunosuppression described in CVF-treated animals as well as the low humoral immune responses in certain hereditary complement deficiencies. It is suggested that IgM indeed has an important physiological function in enhancing antibody responses to foreign substances.

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