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Nature. 1995 May 25;375(6529):331-4.

Soluble antigen can cause enhanced apoptosis of germinal-centre B cells.

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Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, Royal Melbourne Hospital, Victoria, Australia.


Germinal centres are dynamic microenvironments of B-lymphocyte differentiation, which develop in secondary lymphoid tissues during immune responses. Within germinal centres, activated B lymphocytes proliferate and point mutations are rapidly introduced into the genes encoding their immunoglobulin receptors. As a result, new specificities of B cells are created, including those with a heightened capacity to bind the immunizing antigen. Immunoglobulin gene mutation can also lead to reactivity to self antigens. It has been suggested that any newly formed self-reactive B cells are eliminated within the germinal centre in order to avoid autoimmunity. Here we present evidence that antigen-specific, high-affinity, germinal-centre B cells are rapidly killed by apoptosis in situ when they encounter soluble antigen. The effect seems to act directly on the B cells, rather than through helper T cells. Furthermore, the apoptosis is unique to germinal-centre cells, and is only incompletely impeded by constitutive expression of the proto-oncogene bcl-2. This phenomenon may reflect clonal deletion of self-reactive B cells within germinal centres.

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