Intrinsic properties of human germinal center B cells set antigen affinity thresholds

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Protective antibody responses to vaccination or infection depend on affinity maturation, a process by which high-affinity germinal center (GC) B cells are selected on the basis of their ability to bind, gather, and present antigen to T follicular helper (T) cells. Here, we show that human GC B cells have intrinsically higher-affinity thresholds for both B cell antigen receptor (BCR) signaling and antigen gathering as compared with naïve B cells and that these functions are mediated by distinct cellular structures and pathways that ultimately lead to antigen affinity- and T cell-dependent differentiation to plasma cells. GC B cells bound antigen through highly dynamic, actin- and ezrin-rich pod-like structures that concentrated BCRs. The behavior of these structures was dictated by the intrinsic antigen affinity thresholds of GC B cells. Low-affinity antigens triggered continuous engagement and disengagement of membrane-associated antigens, whereas high-affinity antigens induced stable synapse formation. The pod-like structures also mediated affinity-dependent antigen internalization by unconventional pathways distinct from those of naïve B cells. Thus, intrinsic properties of human GC B cells set thresholds for affinity selection.

Journal details

Volume 3
Issue number 29
Pages eaau6598
Available online
Publication date