In vitro hydrocortisone in physiologic and pharmacologically attainable concentrations caused a marked enhancement of the PWM-induced PFC response of normal human peripheral blood B lymphocytes. This effect was seen only when hydrocortisone was added within the first 24 hr of culture and only when hydrocortisone and PWM were present together in cultures. Only suprapharmacologic concentrations of hydrocortisone (10-3 M) were capable of suppressing early B cell activation. Late stages of antibody production and secretion were resistant to suppression by even these extraordinarily high concentrations. Hydrocortisone did not replace the T cell requirement of PWM-induced PFC responses. A single dose of in vivo hydrocortisone (400 mg) to normal adult volunteers did not produce this enhancing effect when PFC responses were measured in vitro in the absence of hydrocortisone.
The data strongly suggest that the enhancing effect of hydrocortisone was due not to elimination of naturally occurring suppressor cells, but to a modulation of the triggering signal either directly on the B cell itself or via the balance of positive and negative T cell regulation of B cell activation.