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Nature. 2011 Dec 11;481(7380):199-203. doi: 10.1038/nature10698.

Acquisition of a multifunctional IgA+ plasma cell phenotype in the gut.

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Department of Immunology, University of Toronto, Toronto M5S 1A8, Canada.


The largest mucosal surface in the body is in the gastrointestinal tract, a location that is heavily colonized by microbes that are normally harmless. A key mechanism required for maintaining a homeostatic balance between this microbial burden and the lymphocytes that densely populate the gastrointestinal tract is the production and transepithelial transport of poly-reactive IgA (ref. 1). Within the mucosal tissues, B cells respond to cytokines, sometimes in the absence of T-cell help, undergo class switch recombination of their immunoglobulin receptor to IgA, and differentiate to become plasma cells. However, IgA-secreting plasma cells probably have additional attributes that are needed for coping with the tremendous bacterial load in the gastrointestinal tract. Here we report that mouse IgA(+) plasma cells also produce the antimicrobial mediators tumour-necrosis factor-α (TNF-α) and inducible nitric oxide synthase (iNOS), and express many molecules that are commonly associated with monocyte/granulocytic cell types. The development of iNOS-producing IgA(+) plasma cells can be recapitulated in vitro in the presence of gut stroma, and the acquisition of this multifunctional phenotype in vivo and in vitro relies on microbial co-stimulation. Deletion of TNF-α and iNOS in B-lineage cells resulted in a reduction in IgA production, altered diversification of the gut microbiota and poor clearance of a gut-tropic pathogen. These findings reveal a novel adaptation to maintaining homeostasis in the gut, and extend the repertoire of protective responses exhibited by some B-lineage cells.

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