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PLoS One. 2008 Jan 23;3(1):e1464. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0001464.

Conditional immortalization of human B cells by CD40 ligation.

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  • 1Clinical Cooperative Group Molecular Oncology, GSF - National Research Center, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität, Munich, Germany.


It is generally assumed that human differentiated cells have a limited life-span and proliferation capacity in vivo, and that genetic modifications are a prerequisite for their immortalization in vitro. Here we readdress this issue, studying the long-term proliferation potential of human B cells. It was shown earlier that human B cells from peripheral blood of healthy donors can be efficiently induced to proliferate for up to ten weeks in vitro by stimulating their receptor CD40 in the presence of interleukin-4. When we applied the same stimuli under conditions of modified cell number and culture size, we were surprised to find that our treatment induced B cells to proliferate throughout an observation period of presently up to 1650 days, representing more than 370 population doublings, which suggested that these B cells were immortalized in vitro. Long-term CD40-stimulated B cell cultures could be established from most healthy adult human donors. These B cells had a constant phenotype, were free from Epstein-Barr virus, and remained dependent on CD40 ligation. They had constitutive telomerase activity and stabilized telomere length. Moreover, they were susceptible to activation by Toll-like receptor 9 ligands, and could be used to expand antigen-specific cytotoxic T cells in vitro. Our results indicate that human somatic cells can evade senescence and be conditionally immortalized by external stimulation only, without a requirement for genetic manipulation or oncoviral infection. Conditionally immortalized human B cells are a new tool for immunotherapy and studies of B cell oncogenesis, activation, and function.

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