Ig H and L chains are independently assembled in B cells and then secreted together as a functional protein. H chains cannot be secreted without assembly to L chains; however, L chains can be secreted in the absence of H chains by both mice and human cells. To examine the influence of H chain expression on human L chain isotype selection (kappa or lambda), we compared the kappa/lambda ratio of L chains unassociated with H chains (free L chains) to the kappa/lambda ratio of L chains associated with H chains. Culture supernatants of human splenocytes were assayed for kappa and lambda L chains. Free L chains were the predominant form of L chains detected in unstimulated cultures, accounting for 68 to 70% of the total. This was in contrast to the minor proportion that free L chains represented (less than 20%) in cultures stimulated with PWM or LPS (p less than 0.01). Furthermore, the kappa/lambda ratio of light chains detected in unstimulated cultures was 0.5 as compared to 1.3 for PWM stimulated cultures (p = 0.0001). To demonstrate that the decreased kappa/lambda ratio of L chains in the supernatants of cultures of unstimulated B cells was due to free L chains, we measured the kappa/lambda ratio of IgG and IgM-associated L chains. In both the stimulated and unstimulated cultures, the kappa/lambda ratio of L chains associated with H chains was greater than the ratio determined for free L chains. Free L chains were shown to be predominantly lambda as compared to the predominantly kappa phenotype of L chains associated with H chains. Thus absence of H chain expression affects selection of L chain isotypes secreted by human B cells.

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