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J Exp Med. 2002 Feb 4;195(3):383-9.

Low-level hypermutation in T cell-independent germinal centers compared with high mutation rates associated with T cell-dependent germinal centers.

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Medical Research Council Centre for Immune Regulation, University of Birmingham Medical School, Birmingham B15 2TT, United Kingdom.


Exceptionally germinal center formation can be induced without T cell help by polysaccharide-based antigens, but these germinal centers involute by massive B cell apoptosis at the time centrocyte selection starts. This study investigates whether B cells in germinal centers induced by the T cell-independent antigen (4-hydroxy-3-nitrophenyl)acetyl (NP) conjugated to Ficoll undergo hypermutation in their immunoglobulin V region genes. Positive controls are provided by comparing germinal centers at the same stage of development in carrier-primed mice immunized with a T cell-dependent antigen: NP protein conjugate. False positive results from background germinal centers and false negatives from non-B cells in germinal centers were avoided by transferring B cells with a transgenic B cell receptor into congenic controls not carrying the transgene. By 4 d after immunization, hypermutation was well advanced in the T cell-dependent germinal centers. By contrast, the mutation rate for T cell-independent germinal centers was low, but significantly higher than in NP-specific B cells from nonimmunized transgenic mice. Interestingly, a similar rate of mutation was seen in extrafollicular plasma cells at this stage. It is concluded that efficient activation of hypermutation depends on interaction with T cells, but some hypermutation may be induced without such signals, even outside germinal centers.

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