The ligand binding requisites for membrane IgM-mediated signaling of human B lymphocyte clonal expansion and B cell tolerance were investigated with a well-characterized set of soluble murine anti-human IgM mAbs. Evaluation of the impact of mu chain domain specificity, affinity, and binding stoichiometry for membrane IgM on antibody-induced regulation of normal and leukemic B cell DNA synthesis revealed that the ligand binding requisites for inducing or, alternatively, suppressing B cell DNA synthesis are significantly different. First, while the induction of S phase entry required micrograms/ml concentrations of ligand, orders of magnitude lower concentrations of ligand sufficed for inhibitory signaling. Second, while an upper affinity threshold for achieving maximal stimulation of B cell DNA synthesis was never detected, inhibitory signaling by bivalent ligands appeared to become relatively affinity independent at Fab binding affinities greater than 7.0 x 10(6) M-1. Third, while a C mu 1-specific mAb with an enhanced incidence of monogamous binding to mIgM was ineffective at inducing B cell DNA synthesis, the antibody was not significantly compromised in ability to initiate inhibitory signals. These differences could be observed in a clonal B cell population which positively or negatively responded to mIgM ligation depending upon its state of activation. The accumulated observations indicate that the ligand binding requisites for inhibitory signal transduction in human B lymphocytes are much less rigorous than those for stimulatory signal transduction and suggest that many physiologically relevant anti-Ig antibodies are more likely to function in the negative feedback regulation of B cell responses than in the direct triggering of human B cell clonal expansion.

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