We previously showed that immunization of various strains of mice with three types of antigen--PC-Hy (nominal antigen), F6-Hy (Ab2 alpha-Hy, and 4C11-Hy (Ab2 beta-Hy)--induces a differential PC-specific, T15-Id+ antibody response. In this report, the in vitro phosphorylcholine (PC)-specific B cell responses induced by these three antigens were studied. A hemocyanin-specific long-term T helper cell line was used to provide help for primary and secondary in vitro T cell-dependent B cell responses. At low doses (0.005 to 0.5 micrograms/ml) of antigen, a significant increase in the proliferation of PC-OVA-primed BALB/c B cells was observed with Ab2-Hy or PC-Hy conjugate, but not unconjugate, antigens. Similar low doses of antigen could stimulate naive B cells to secrete IgM and stimulate PC-OVA- or 4C11-Hy-primed B cells to secret IgM and IgG1 anti-PC antibodies. The percentage of T15-Id of the PC-specific antibodies produced in the in vitro T-B culture was found to be less dominant than that produced by in vivo immunization, suggesting that certain regulatory mechanisms occur in the in vivo environment that may help to maintain the T15-Id dominance. Taken together, our in vivo and in vitro results indicate that idiotope antigens can function like nominal antigens to induce antigen-specific B cell responses. The mechanisms of thymic-dependent B cell activation induced by idiotope and nominal antigen are similar in that the T-B interaction is MHC-restricted and requires cognate recognition.

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