B cells are an abundant population of lymphocytes that can efficiently capture, process, and present antigen for recognition by activated or memory T cells. Controversial experiments and arguments exist, however, as to whether B cells are or should be involved in the priming of virgin T cells in vivo. Using B cell-deficient mice, we have studied the role of B cells as antigen-presenting cells in a wide variety of tests, including assays of T cell proliferation and cytokine production in responses to protein antigens, T cell killing to minor and major histocompatibility antigens, skin graft rejection, and the in vitro and in vivo responses to shistosome eggs. We found that B cells are not critical for either CD4 or CD8 T cell priming in any of these systems. This finding lends support to the notion that the priming of T cells is reserved for specialized cells such as dendritic cells and that antigen presentation by B cells serves distinct immunological functions.

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