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J Immunol. 2001 Sep 15;167(6):3239-49.

Antibody repertoire development in fetal and neonatal piglets. IV. Switch recombination, primarily in fetal thymus, occurs independent of environmental antigen and is only weakly associated with repertoire diversification.

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  • 1Department of Microbiology and Interdisciplinary Immunology Program, University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA 52242, USA. john-butler@uiowa.edu


The epitheliochorial placenta of swine is considered a barrier to Ag and selective transport of IgG, so this species should be an excellent model with which to determine whether switch recombination is Ag dependent. Analysis of Ig levels and Ig isotype profiles in >150 normal and virus-infected fetuses from 38-110 days of gestation (DG) suggested that IgG, IgA, and IgM were most likely the result of de novo fetal synthesis. Although transcripts for IgM could be recovered at DG 50 (114 DG is full gestation) in all major fetal lymphoid tissues, those for IgG and IgA first became prominent at 60 DG in thymus, and transcription and spontaneous secretion became especially pronounced in this organ in older fetuses. Data on transcription, secretion, and serum isotype profiles suggest that although all fetal IgA and IgM may result from de novo synthesis, some IgG may result from low-level selective transport. The complementarity-determining region 3 spectratypes of thymic IgA and IgG transcripts at 70 and 90 days, respectively, were as polyclonal as that of IgM, indicating a broad repertoire of switched B cells although the VDJs transcribed with these switched isotypes in normal fetuses were not diversified in comparison to those from animals exposed to environmental Ags such as age-matched, virus-infected fetuses, colonized isolator piglets, and conventional adults. However, VDJs expressed with switched isotypes were more diversified than those expressed with IgM. Thus, switch recombination in fetal life does not appear to be driven by environmental Ag and is only weakly coupled to VDJ diversification. These findings, and the fact that the oligoclonal IgA and IgM repertoires in a noninductive site of the mucosal immune system (parotid gland) become polyclonal in piglets reared germfree, suggest that initial expansion of the switched cells in the B cell compartment of fetal and neonatal piglets is not driven by environmental Ag.

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