Cholera toxin (CT) is a powerful oral immunogen and adjuvant that elicits strong IgG and IgA antibody responses. In our study we investigated whether this property of CT was associated with an effect on B cell isotype differentiation. Initially, we determined the effect of CT on normal LPS-induced Peyer's patch B cells and found that whereas CT is strongly inhibitory of IgM production, it increases by approximately three-fold the number and frequency of IgG- and IgA-producing cells. Subsequently, using cell sorting technology, we demonstrated that CT acts on membrane (m)IgM+, mIgG/mIgA- B cells rather than mIgG/mIgA+ B cells. In addition, we showed that CT does not cause selective inhibition of mIgM, or enhancement of mIgG/mIgA B cell proliferation. In parallel studies we determined the effect of CT on the differentiation of a clonal B cell population, CH12.LX cells, i.e., a population comprised mainly of mIgM+ cells (98%) admixed with a small subpopulation of mIgA+ cells (2%). Here we found that CT (in the absence of LPS) causes a rapid decrease (24 h) in the intensity of mIgM expression as well as a marked increase in the size of the subpopulation expressing mIgA. In addition, we found that CT (in the presence of LPS), inhibits CH12.LX IgM production while increasing the absolute number and frequency of IgA-producing cells. In contrast, CT inhibits IgA production by CH12.LX.A2 cells, a subclone of CH12.LX cells that bears only IgA. Finally, we demonstrated that CT is equally inhibitory of the proliferation of CH12.LX cells and CH12.LX.A2 cells. Taken together, these effects of CT on normal B cells and a clonal B cell line indicate that CT induces substantial numbers of mIgM+ cells to undergo isotype differentiation into mIgG+ or mIgA+ B cells. In a final series of studies we showed that the effect of CT on isotype differentiation was mimicked by the B subunit of CT, i.e., the subunit that does not activate intracellular adenylate cyclase; thus the induction of isotype differentiation by CT is not mediated by a perturbation in cAMP level.

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