We have examined whether T cell stimulation by direct or indirect pathways contributes to alloantibody production by B cells after major histocompatibility complex (MHC)-disparate skin graft rejection in mice. Experiments were performed using normal mice, MHC class II-deficient mice, MHC class II-deficient mice with an intact peripheral CD4+ cell population (due to expression of class II antigens only on thymic epithelium), mice lacking the cytoplasmic tail of their MHC class II antigens, and mice depleted of CD4+ cells by anti-CD4 monoclonal antibody treatment. Depletion of recipient CD4+ cells reduced alloantibody production to barely detectable levels. Absence of donor MHC class II antigens did not affect the production of either immunoglobulin (Ig)M or IgG antibodies directed at class I alloantigens. Absence of recipient MHC class II antigens, however, led to production of only IgM but not IgG antibodies, even if the recipients had an intact CD4+ cell population. Absence of the cytoplasmic tail of the recipient's MHC class II antigens led to the production of slightly reduced amounts of IgG antibody. These findings indicate that (a) CD4+ cells are essential helper cells for B cell alloantibody production; (b) production of IgM alloantibody can occur with help from CD4+ cells, which recognize either donor class II antigens or modified recipient class II antigens; (c) isotype switching from IgM to IgG alloantibody requires help from CD4+ cells activated by antigens presented by recipient MHC class II molecules; and (d) the cytoplasmic domain of the recipient MHC class II molecules may be involved in the mechanism that leads to isotype switching by B cells. Thus, there are two levels of CD4-mediated help available for B cells responding to alloantigens: one (involving a noncognate interaction) can produce B cell activation, and a second (involving a cognate interaction) is required for differentiation and IgG alloantibody production.

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