In spite of the prenatal appearance of immunoglobulin-bearing lymphocytes and θ-positive lymphocytes in the spleens of Swiss-L mice, these mice are not able to produce detectable levels of humoral antibodies in response to antigen until after 1 wk of age. Adult levels of response are not achieved until 4–8 wk of age. In the presence of bacterial lipopolysaccharides, which can substitute for or enhance T-cell function, the B cells from young Swiss-L mice were found to be indistinguishable in function from adult B cells, both with respect to the numbers of plaque-forming cells (PFC) produced in vitro in response to antigen and with respect to the kinetics of PFC induction. The spleen cells from young Swiss-L mice are significantly less sensitive than adult spleen cells, however, to stimulation by the T cell mitogens, concanavalin A (Con A) and phytohemagglutinin (PHA). Very few Con A-responsive cells could be detected at birth but the numbers increased sharply with age until 3 wk after birth. On the other hand, PHA-responsive cells could not be detected in the spleen until about 3 wk of age. The latter cells were found to respond also to Con A, but at a lower dose (1 µg/ml) than that required for the bulk of the Con A-responsive cells (3 µg/ml). The cells that respond both to PHA and to Con A appear in the spleen at about the time that Swiss-L mice acquire the ability to produce humoral antibodies, and these cells can be depleted from the spleen by the in vivo administration of antithymocyte serum. The development of humoral immune responses in these mice therefore appears to be correlated with the appearance of recirculating T lymphocytes that are responsive both to PHA and to Con A.
In order to clarify the cellular events that precede the onset of immunological competence in the mouse, we have characterized and quantitated the lymphoid cells of the spleen as a function of age. Our results show that T cells and B cells both appeared in the spleens of Swiss-L mice as early as the 15th-16th day of gestation. Antigen-binding cells specific for each of three different antigens were also first detected during this same 24 h interval. The B cells and three varieties of antigen-binding cells increased in number rapidly and in parallel until about 1 wk after birth. The T cells, which were more numerous than B cells at first, increased in number somewhat more slowly. Coincident with the onset of response to antigen, there was a further increase in B cell numbers and a decrease in the T cell to B cell ratio. The capacity to respond to antigen by cellular proliferation and synthesis of antibody did not arise until about 2 wk after birth although there were no quantitative changes in the total numbers of T cells, B cells, and antigen-binding cells between 1 and 2 wk of age. Some qualitative change, such as the functional maturation of an antigen-reactive cell, may be required during this interval for the onset of this immunological response. Although the numbers of antigen-binding cells present in fetuses and young animals were smaller than in adults, we have as yet been unable to detect any restriction in the variety of specificities that can be expressed in fetuses, either in the kinds of antigens bound or in the range of avidities with which a single antigen is bound.