We have previously shown that low doses of ionizing radiation selectively impair a functionally defined B cell subpopulation. Normal mice, after exposure to 200 rad of ionizing radiation, have normal or near normal splenic plaque-forming cell responses to thymus-independent type 1 Ag, but reduced responses to thymus-independent type 2 Ag. Here, we confirm and extend the original findings by using hapten-specific serum RIA to demonstrate this differential radiosensitivity is systemic. We also examined splenocytes stained with a panel of lymphocyte surface Ag by FACS analysis to determine if these functional changes are accompanied by a physical alteration of the B cell pool of irradiated mice. Single-parameter FACS analyses demonstrate a diminution in both B cell number and the heterogeneity of membrane Ag expression within the surviving B cell pool after irradiation. In contrast, T cells are relatively radioresistant as the relative percentage of T cells in the irradiated splenocyte pool increases, whereas the heterogeneity of membrane Ag expression remains constant. Multiparameter FACS analyses indicate that B cells with the sIgM much greater than sIgD phenotype are more radiosensitive than B cells of the sIgM much less than sIgD phenotype. In addition, immunohistochemical analysis of splenic sections stained with anti-IgM or anti-IgD reveal the enhanced radiosensitivity of marginal zone B cells.

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