When 13 B cell lines were phenotyped with a panel of B cell, stage-specific monoclonal antibodies and ordered with respect to differentiation state; their sensitivity to natural killer (NK) cell-mediated conjugate formation and cytolysis was found to be stage dependent. Target cell lines expressing an early B cell phenotype (B1+B2-CALLA+DU-ALL1 +/-) or an intermediate phenotype (B1+B2+CALLA-DU-ALL1+) were NK resistant. Late phenotypic B cells (B1+B2-CALLA-DU-ALL1-) were highly susceptible to NK cytolysis. Individual B cell lines when induced with sodium butyrate or retinoic acid expressed altered B cell phenotype and NK susceptibility. For example, SB, an intermediate B cell line and initially NK resistant, when induced to express a later B cell phenotype became NK sensitive. BJA.B, a late B cell line and initially NK sensitive, when induced to differentiate lost most of its sensitivity to natural killing. Since loss of the B2 antigen is associated with B cell activation, we further phenotyped the B cell lines and induced B cell lines with the 4F2 and 5E9 (anti-transferrin receptor) monoclonal reagents. All cell lines tested expressed each of these antigens, but with varying intensities. While the intensity of 4F2 expression appeared to correlate well with NK sensitivity on both resting and differentiated B cell lines, the intensity of 5E9 expression did not. Peripheral blood B cells express a similar pattern of reactivity to natural killing when stimulated with pokeweed mitogen (PWM) in vitro. B cell sensitivity to NK-mediated events peaked at day 4 of incubation and correlated with the loss of the B2 antigen and acquisition of the 4F2 and 5E9 antigens; sensitivity to natural killing was diminished in the presence of the PCA-1 antigen. The expression of the NK-susceptible phenotype among B cells appears to be differentiation stage- and activation state-dependent. It is during this period of ontogeny that the NK cell may cytolytically regulate the B cell transition to a plasma cell.

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