Immunoglobulin gene rearrangement during mammalian B cell development generally follows an ordered progression, beginning with heavy (H) chain genes and proceeding through kappa and lambda light (L) chain genes. To determine whether the predicted kappa-->lambda hierarchy was occurring in vitro, we generated Epstein-Barr virus-transformed cell lines from cultures undergoing human pre-B cell differentiation. A total of 143 cell lines were established. 24 expressed cell surface mu/lambda by flow cytometry and were clonal by Southern blotting. Surprisingly, two of the mu/lambda-expressing cell lines contained both kappa alleles in germline configuration, and synthesis/expression of conventional lambda L chains was directly proven by immunoprecipitation/sodium dodecyl sulfate-polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis (SDS-PAGE) in one of them. Thus, human fetal bone marrow B lineage cells harbor the capacity to make functional lambda L chain gene rearrangements without rearranging or deleting either kappa allele. A third unusual cell line, designated 30.30, was observed to coexpress cell surface kappa and lambda L chains associated with mu H chains. The 30.30 cell line had a diploid karyotype, a single H chain rearrangement, both kappa alleles rearranged, and a single lambda rearrangement. Immunoprecipitation/SDS-PAGE confirmed that 30.30 cells synthesized and expressed kappa and lambda L chains. Multiparameter flow cytometry was used to demonstrate the existence of kappa+/lambda+ cells in fetal bone marrow and fetal spleen at frequencies of 2-3% of the total surface Ig+ B cell population. The flow cytometry data was confirmed by two-color immunofluorescence microscopy. The existence of normal human B cells expressing cell surface kappa and lambda refutes the widely accepted concept that expression of a single L chain isotype is immutable. The kappa+/lambda+ cells may represent transients undergoing L chain isotype switching.

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