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J Immunol. 2007 Dec 15;179(12):8180-90.

Cytokine-mediated regulation of human B cell differentiation into Ig-secreting cells: predominant role of IL-21 produced by CXCR5+ T follicular helper cells.

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Garvan Institute of Medical Research, Darlinghurst, New South Wales, Australia.


Differentiation of B cells into Ig-secreting cells (ISC) is critical for the generation of protective humoral immune responses. Because of the important role played by secreted Ig in host protection against infection, it is necessary to identify molecules that control B cell differentiation. Recently, IL-21 was reported to generate ISC from activated human B cells. In this study, we examined the effects of IL-21 on the differentiation of all human mature B cell subsets--neonatal, transitional, naive, germinal center, IgM-memory, and isotype-switched memory cells--into ISC and compared its efficacy to that of IL-10, a well-known mediator of human B cell differentiation. IL-21 rapidly induced the generation of ISC and the secretion of vast quantities IgM, IgG and IgA from all of these B cell subsets. Its effect exceeded that of IL-10 by up to 100-fold, highlighting the potency of IL-21 as a B cell differentiation factor. Strikingly, IL-4 suppressed the stimulatory effects of IL-21 on naive B cells by reducing the expression of B-lymphocyte induced maturation protein-1 (Blimp-1). In contrast, memory B cells were resistant to the inhibitory effects of IL-4. Finally, the ability of human tonsillar CD4+CXCR5+CCR7- T follicular helper (TFH) cells, known to be a rich source of IL-21, to induce the differentiation of autologous B cells into ISC was mediated by the production of IL-21. These findings suggest that IL-21 produced by TFH cells during the primary as well as the subsequent responses to T cell-dependent Ag makes a major contribution to eliciting and maintaining long-lived humoral immunity.

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