Signaling through surface CD40 is essential for selecting B cells that have mutated their immunoglobulin variable region genes in germinal centers and is an important signal in the early stages of antibody responses to T cell-dependent antigens. It is shown that a subset of CD45RO+, CD4+ T cells isolated from human tonsil contains preformed 30-35-kD ligand for CD40. This is expressed on their surfaces within 5 min of their antigen-receptor complexes interacting with CD3 epsilon antibodies bound to ox erythrocytes. This surface expression does not require de novo protein synthesis and lasts for only 1-2 h. Preformed CD40 ligand (CD40L) was not detected in any CD4+ CD45RA+ T cells, but > 90% of all CD4+ T cells from the tonsil can be induced to express large amounts of CD40L on culture with phorbol myristate acetate and the calcium ionophore ionomycin. This expression of CD40L starts between 1 and 2 h, peaks at 6 h, and remains at a high level for > 20 h. It is totally prevented by adding a concentration of cycloheximide that inhibits CD25 synthesis by these activated cells. While CD3 epsilon antibody bound to ox red cells is a good inducer of surface expression of CD40L, it is a much less potent inducer of CD40L synthesis than phorbol myristate acetate with ionomycin. Immunohistological analysis of tonsil sections shows that cells containing CD40L are located mainly in the outer zone of germinal centers and the margins of the T zones that are rich in dendritic cells (interdigitating cells). The distribution of these cells is consistent with: (a) their interaction in T zones with B cells that have taken up and processed antigen and (b) their involvement in B cell selection in germinal centers.

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