Recent scanning electron microscopic studies on isolated follicular dendritic cells (FDC) showed that dendrites of certain FDC were "beaded," i.e., consisting of a series of interconnected immune complex coated bodies (termed "iccosomes," measuring 0.3 to 0.7 micron diameter). In vitro these iccosomes detach from one another with ease. The major objectives herein were to establish whether these structures can be detected in sections and whether iccosomes serve to disseminate antigen in vivo. Beginning at day 1, the time point used for isolating beaded FDC, the popliteal lymph nodes of immune C3H mice were studied with light and transmission electron microscopy for 2 wk (i.e., at days 1, 3, 5, 8, and 14) after hind footpad injection of the histochemically detectable antigen, horseradish peroxidase (HRP). Iccosomes (0.25 to 0.38 micron diameter), contoured by a peroxidase (PO)-positive coat of HRP-anti-HRP complexes, were first detected by transmission electron microscopy at day 1 adjacent to cell bodies of certain FDC. Within their limiting membrane they contained flocculent material that was PO positive. At day 3 by light microscopy, germinal centers were seen enlarged and the antigen-retaining reticulum, composed of antigen-bearing FDC, appeared diffuse. This coincided with the transmission electron microscopic visualization of a dispersed state of iccosomes among the follicular lymphocytes. At that time iccosomes were seen attached to the surface of lymphocytes via PO-positive immune complexes and were surrounded by microvillous processes of these cells. Germinal center lymphocytes and tingible body macrophages both responded to contact with iccosomes by endocytosis. Antigen-containing tingible body macrophage were most conspicuous by light microscopy at day 5, when transmission electron microscopy showed that the majority of germinal center lymphocytes contained endocytosed HRP in secondary lysosome-like granules associated with the Golgi apparatus. The number of dispersed iccosomes was markedly reduced by day 5. In controls injected with HSA, a PO-negative antigen, lymphocytes and tingible body macrophages were PO-negative. The presence of antigen in both cell types was confirmed through the use of a gold-conjugated antigen (goat IgG). Simultaneous immunoperoxidase labeling of the same tissues with anti-Ia showed the gold conjugate containing B cells to be Ia+. Antigen-positive B cells and tingible body macrophages were greatly reduced in numbers by day 14, suggesting the intracellular fragmentation of the antigen.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

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