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Learning objectives

  • Describe the production and maturation of B cells
  • Compare the structure of B-cell receptors and T-cell receptors
  • Compare T-dependent and T-independent activation of B cells
  • Compare the primary and secondary antibody responses

Humoral immunity refers to mechanisms of the adaptive immune defenses that are mediated by antibodies secreted by B lymphocytes, or B cells. This section will focus on B cells and discuss their production and maturation, receptors, and mechanisms of activation.

B cell production and maturation

Like T cells, B cells are formed from multipotent hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) in the bone marrow and follow a pathway through lymphoid stem cell and lymphoblast (see [link] ). Unlike T cells, however, lymphoblasts destined to become B cells do not leave the bone marrow and travel to the thymus for maturation. Rather, eventual B cells continue to mature in the bone marrow.

The first step of B cell maturation is an assessment of the functionality of their antigen-binding receptors. This occurs through positive selection for B cells with normal functional receptors. A mechanism of negative selection is then used to eliminate self-reacting B cells and minimize the risk of autoimmunity . Negative selection of self-reacting B cells can involve elimination by apoptosis , editing or modification of the receptors so they are no longer self-reactive, or induction of anergy in the B cell. Immature B cells that pass the selection in the bone marrow then travel to the spleen for their final stages of maturation. There they become naïve mature B cells , i.e., mature B cells that have not yet been activated.

  • Compare the maturation of B cells with the maturation of T cells.

B-cell receptors

Like T cells, B cells possess antigen-specific receptors with diverse specificities. Although they rely on T cells for optimum function, B cells can be activated without help from T cells. B-cell receptors (BCRs) for naïve mature B cells are membrane-bound monomeric forms of IgD and IgM . They have two identical heavy chains and two identical light chains connected by disulfide bonds into a basic “Y” shape ( [link] ). The trunk of the Y-shaped molecule, the constant region of the two heavy chains, spans the B cell membrane. The two antigen-binding sites exposed to the exterior of the B cell are involved in the binding of specific pathogen epitopes to initiate the activation process. It is estimated that each naïve mature B cell has upwards of 100,000 BCRs on its membrane, and each of these BCRs has an identical epitope-binding specificity.

In order to be prepared to react to a wide range of microbial epitopes, B cells, like T cells, use genetic rearrangement of hundreds of gene segments to provide the necessary diversity of receptor specificities. The variable region of the BCR heavy chain is made up of V, D, and J segments , similar to the β chain of the TCR. The variable region of the BCR light chain is made up of V and J segments, similar to the α chain of the TCR. Genetic rearrangement of all possible combinations of V-J-D (heavy chain) and V-J (light chain) provides for millions of unique antigen-binding sites for the BCR and for the antibodies secreted after activation.

Questions & Answers

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Source:  OpenStax, Microbiology. OpenStax CNX. Nov 01, 2016 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col12087/1.4
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