Activation of T cells by mAb to the CD3 molecular complex induces the differentiation of many more Ig-secreting cells (ISC) from resting human B cells in bulk cultures than do other modes of polyclonal B cell activation. In the current experiments, a limiting dilution assay was used to demonstrate that this increase in ISC generation reflects an increased frequency of responding B cells. Highly purified B cells were cultured at densities of between 1000 cells and 0.5 cell per microwell with fresh, mitomycin C-treated T cells (T mito) or T cell clones stimulated by immobilized mAb to CD3. After 5 days in culture, the number of wells containing ISC was determined, and the frequency of responding B cells was calculated. The proportion of B cells responding to anti-CD3-stimulated T cells was very large (10.7 +/- 2.8%) and greatly surpassed that induced by other polyclonal activators. B cells cultured with anti-CD3-stimulated T cell clones responded better than did those cultured with T mito. The addition of exogenous IL-2 or IL-6 to cultures supported by activated T mito enhanced the frequency of responding B cells, whereas IL-4 did not increase the generation of ISC and inhibited the augmentation of B cell responses induced by IL-2. Supplementation of cultures with mitomycin C-treated B cells as accessory cells had less of an effect. The addition of both accessory cells and IL-2 markedly increased B cell responsiveness, with precursor frequencies of 60 to 80% noted. In some experiments, cultures were carried out for 7 to 14 days and supernatants were analyzed for IgM, IgG, and IgA secretion. B cells activated by anti-CD3-stimulated T cells produced all three Ig isotypes. When the classes of Ig produced by single B cells were examined, it was observed that the stimulation of individual B cell precursors led to the production of multiple Ig isotypes, suggesting that isotype switching occurs in these cultures. These results demonstrate that under optimum culture conditions, T cells stimulated with immobilized anti-CD3 can activate the majority of human peripheral blood B cells to produce Ig and induce isotype switching by many.

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