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FASEB J. 1994 Aug;8(11):832-40.

Biology of germinal centers in lymphoid tissue.

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  • 1Department of Pathology, New York University School of Medicine, New York 10016.


Germinal centers in lymphoid tissue are the sites of generation of memory B cells undergoing isotype switching and somatic mutation in their Ig genes. Their formation cannot be induced by stimuli other than immunogenic ones. It seems likely that in the function and possibly also in the formation of germinal centers, one important factor is the localization of immune complexes with fixed complement on the surface of follicular dendritic cells. CD4+ T cells, located primarily in the "apical light zones" of the centers, are necessary for germinal center formation. However, their exact role in the process needs clarification, as both cell to cell contact and cytokine production could be involved at different stages of the germinal center generation. These T cells are usually specific for the antigen inducing the germinal center, but they may sometimes respond to other surface components on the B cell surface. In view of the possible stimulatory role of CD4+ T cells in follicular center-derived lymphomas, the functional significance of these T cells in germinal center proliferation is important to unravel. The B cells in germinal centers proliferate extremely rapidly, especially those located in the "dark zones." Many of them undergo apoptosis, particularly in the "basal light zones." The microenvironment of these centers is well suited to the task of expanding and selecting memory B cells of high affinity for the inducing antigen. The interactions of the proliferating B cells with dendritic cells and T cells, unevenly distributed in the various zones of the germinal center, are thought to determine which cells deserve rescue from apoptosis and induction to differentiation into small resting memory B cells. The memory B cells that emerge from the germinal center bear sIg, usually of "switched" isotype, and exhibit somatic mutations in the variable regions of their rearranged Ig genes.

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