To investigate the properties which enable type 2 Ag, as exemplified by dextran and Ficoll, to stimulate high levels of antibody responses in the relative absence of T cells, we conjugated anti-IgD and anti-IgM mAb to both dextran and Ficoll and examined their B cell-activating properties. Such conjugated anti-Ig antibodies stimulated both early and later stages of B cell activation at picogram concentrations, which are at least 1000-fold lower than that required for B cell stimulation by unconjugated anti-Ig antibodies, and the level of proliferation they stimulated was on average 10-fold greater. Furthermore, concentrations of anti-Ig dextran (100 pg/ml) which modulated little sIgD from the B cell surface were strong inducers of enhanced B cell expression of MHC class II molecules. Conjugation of Fab fragments of anti-IgD or nonmitogenic anti-IgM mAb to dextran rendered them as mitogenic as dextran conjugated to strongly stimulatory anti-IgD or anti-IgM antibodies. The ability of dextran and Ficoll to serve as effective carrier molecules for anti-IgD was not related solely to their large m.w., because anti-IgD coupled to polymerized BSA (m.w. 1.5 X 10(6), was only 10- to 50-fold more potent than unconjugated anti-IgD antibodies at stimulating B cell DNA synthesis. These results suggest, therefore, that the unique ability of picogram concentrations of haptenated type 2 Ag to stimulate Ig secretion in the absence of T cells may be a function of their ability to promote effective cross-linking without resulting in the modulation of sIg. This would enable such Ag to mediate repetitive B cell signaling, a situation that cannot be achieved by unconjugated anti-Ig antibodies which result in modulation of sIg at their mitogenic concentrations. These compounds therefore may be employed to study B cell activation stimulated by sIg cross-linking at concentrations that may more closely reflect those which are achieved under physiologic conditions by type 2 Ag.

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