T-B cell interactions have a central role in the development of antibody responses. Upon activation, T helper (Th) cells express the ligand for CD40, gp39, which is essential for Th cell-dependent B cell activation. The cytokines produced by activated Th cells have a regulatory role in B cell differentiation. In this study, we investigated, using immunohistochemical techniques, the in vivo time course and localization of gp39 expression and cytokine production in relation to the specific antibody production. Both the immunization with keyhole limpet hemocyanin (KLH), a thymus-dependent (TD) antigen, and trinitrophenyl (TNP)-Ficoll, a thymus-independent type 2 (TI-2) antigen, induced Th cells to express gp39. The expression of gp39 was restricted to Th cells in the outer periarteriolar lymphocyte sheaths (outer-PALS) and around the terminal arterioles (TA). Incidentally, gp39+ Th cells were found in the corona of follicles, whereas gp39+ cells were never found in the germinal centers or marginal zones of the spleen. Maximum frequencies of gp39+ cells were observed 3 and 4 d after primary and secondary immunization with KLH. After injection of TNP-Ficoll, a marked increase in gp39+ cells was observed, confirming previous observations that activated T cells are involved in TI-2 antibody responses. Analysis of the in vivo cytokine production revealed that interleukin 2 (IL-2)-, IL-4- and interferon gamma (IFN-gamma)-producing cells (IFN-gamma-PC) developed according to similar kinetics as observed for gp39+ cells. IL-2-PC and IL-4-PC were present in higher frequencies as were IFN-gamma-PC in the immune response against TNP-KLH. Double staining experiments revealed gp39+ Th cells producing IL-2, IL-4, or IFN-gamma, suggesting that these cells were involved in both the initial activation as well as the differentiation process of B cells into antibody-forming cells. Dual immunohistochemical analysis revealed gp39+ T cells and cytokine-PC in close proximity to antigen-specific, antibody-forming B cells. In conclusion, this study shows that in vivo gp39 is expressed on activated Th cells after immunization with TD and TI-2 antigens. Furthermore, the time course and compartmentalization of gp39+ expression, cytokine production and antibody formation after immunization suggest that cognate T-B cell interactions and T cell-regulated B cell differentiation occur in the outer-PALS and around the TA of the spleen.

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