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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2011 May 10;108(19):7932-7. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1018571108. Epub 2011 Apr 25.

Facultative role for T cells in extrafollicular Toll-like receptor-dependent autoreactive B-cell responses in vivo.

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Department of Immunobiology and Laboratory Medicine, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, CT 06520, USA.


Extrafollicular (EF) B-cell responses are increasingly being recognized as an alternative pathway of B-cell activation, particularly in autoimmunity. Critical cellular interactions required for the EF B-cell response are unclear. A key question in autoimmunity, in which Toll-like receptor (TLR) signals are costimulatory and could be sufficient for B-cell activation, is whether T cells are required for the response. This is pivotal, because autoreactive B cells are considered antigen-presenting cells for autoreactive T cells, but where such interactions occur has not been identified. Here, using AM14 site-directed transgenic rheumatoid factor (RF) mice, we report that B cells can be activated, differentiate, and isotype-switch independent of antigen-specific T-cell help, αβ T cells, CD40L signaling, and IL-21 signaling to B cells. However, T cells do dramatically enhance the response, and this occurs via CD40L and IL-21 signals. Surprisingly, the response is completely inducible T-cell costimulator ligand independent. These results establish that, although not required, T cells substantially amplify EF autoantibody production and thereby implicate T-independent autoreactive B cells as a potential vector for breaking T-cell tolerance. We suggest that these findings explain why autoreactivity first focuses on self-components for which B cells carry TLR ligands, because these will uniquely be able to activate B cells independently of T cells, with subsequent T-B interactions activating autoreactive T cells, resulting in chronic autoimmunity.

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